Celebrity worship hits new lows in scathing 'Antiviral'
"I am sick."
This is the sort of greeting that awaits Syd March when he enters a room. Pale, skinny, drained of anything resembling human life force, Syd slinks through "Antiviral" like he's searching for death's door.
Syd, played by Caleb Landry Jones, is gainfully employed, despite his ghastly appearance (to be fair, he could be mistaken for a downtown hipster, which is one of this movie's jokes). In the slightly futuristic world of "Antiviral," he works for the Lucas Clinic, a corporation that provides the ultimate satisfaction for obsessed fans in a culture that worships celebrities.
For a tidy fee, the Lucas Clinic will inject its clients with a virus that has been previously possessed by a famous person. That's right: You can get the flu, or a sexually transmitted disease, that was once in the bloodstream of a celeb.
This wicked concept comes to us from writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, the son of David Cronenberg.
Because we know the elder filmmaker from under-the-skin studies such as "Dead Ringers," "Naked Lunch" and the remake of "The Fly," it comes as no great shock that his son has tapped a similar vein (you should pardon the expression) when it comes to body horror.
For part of its running time, "Antiviral" is scathing satire, full of jabs at this logical merging of corporate and celebrity culture, and rife with one-liners that would be perfectly in place in David Cronenberg's 1982 "Videodrome" ("Celebrities are group hallucinations," opines one expert, in a sweeping generalization that sounds about right).
After setting up its clever world, "Antiviral" tends to repeat itself, as Syd searches for some answers to a newly urgent situation; he has a custom of injecting himself with viruses so he can alter the copyrighted stuff and sell it on the black market, and one of those viruses has gone very, very bad.
Brandon Cronenberg's design stresses the slick, anti-human surfaces of this world, along with incessant chatter about the lives of celebrities.
People can't seem to talk about anything else, as though they'd been inoculated with the idea that their own lives are so empty that they need to obsess about the doings of the rich and famous. (Did I say this movie was "futuristic?")
It doesn't all click and should probably be 20 minutes shorter than it is. Still, "Antiviral" creates a convincing world, a world of consumption in which we've gone from naming sandwiches after famous people to actually -- well, let's leave it at that.
"Antiviral" does the rest of the stomach-turning imagining for you.
"Antiviral" (2½ stars)
A fittingly stomach-turning exercise from director Brandon Cronenberg, son of body-horror master David Cronenberg. In this slightly futuristic society, the obsession with celebrities includes fans injecting the viruses of the rich and famous into their bloodstreams, a concept that doesn't entirely click (and goes on too long), but which does its scathing job.
Rated: Not rated; probably R for violence, subject matter.
Showing: Grand Illusion.
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