BFI London Film Festival 2012: ‘Antiviral’ review


Brandon Cronenberg displays the creative genes he was born to engage with Antiviral (2012), a fittingly abstract body horror that whilst clearly influenced by his father’s distinctive style, ultimately culminates in an impressive debut. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) is an employee at the Lucas Clinic, where celebrity viruses are sold to ‘true connoisseurs’. Indeed, in this bleak ‘near future’ celebrity culture has infected society to the extent that butcher shops now self muscle protein grown from TV stars DNA as a substitute for meat.

March has been taking advantage of this biological communion, stealing illegal samples and transporting them in his own body to peddle on the black market. However, when he becomes infected with the disease that kills supermodel Hannah Geist, he must quickly unravel the mystery surrounding her suspicious death before he falls foul to the same fate. It’s easy to see how a film about celebrity obsession could stem from a generation obsessed with reality TV shows, gossip magazines and high profile sex tapes.

Antiviral is clearly intended as a heavy-handed metaphor for our media hungry, consumerist society as an infected vessel, consumed by obsession and ultimately sick to the core. However, whilst this is a rather ingenious premise, dealt with well by a comprehensive script, the film fails to show just how society would reach such critical mass, failing to illuminate the world outside of the high-class clinics touting these designer diseases and giving the audience little perspective.

Shot in a cold, clinical matter and scored by an oppressive industrial soundtrack, the audience is totally detached from any emotional response, instead presented with a prosaic and insipid world only sporadically illuminated by the splattering of blood. Indeed, Cronenberg jnr manipulates the same graphic body horror his father so perfectly utilized to amplify the uncomfortable atmosphere of the film, rather than to repulse the viewer – culminating in an incredibly nauseating experience.

A dystopian horror where society has collapse due to a cultural disease rather than any economic of climate catastrophe, Antiviral’s clinical veneer is almost completely impenetrable, however it’s difficult to think of a better way to depict a society which has become so incredibly vapid. These deathly pathogens and genetic manipulations of illustrious micro-organisms may appear outlandish and absurd, however they only act to illuminate the crippling effects such obsession is having on the creative juices of a society far too willing to accept mindless television where fame and beauty is feted in place of talent and skill.

A social satire about our consumption of celebrity masquerading as a body-horror, Antiviral suffers from a narrow focus and soulless aesthetic, yet thanks to its visionary approach show promise of great things to come for Brandon Cronenberg.

The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble