Antiviral, by Brandon Cronenberg, son of David, “turns out to be a virtual compendium of the elder Cronenberg’s most famous films,” writes Time Out Chicago‘s Ben Kenigsberg. “The movie stars Caleb Landry Jones as Syd March, a biotechnician who works for a company that stocks ‘exclusive’ pathogens from the rich and famous. Antiviral literalizes the notion that celebrity is a virus: In this contemporary dystopia, fans pay top dollar to be infected with their favorite movie stars’ illnesses. It’s a way of sharing bodies, of being close to fame, no matter what the consequences. The movie opens with a man getting an injection of a starlet’s herpes and only grows more disgusting from there…. One can spot conceits from Videodrome (a messianic talking-head figure), Dead Ringers (speculation about a deformed vagina), The Fly (Syd undergoes a repulsive physical transformation) and eXistenZ (infected flesh pods).” And “as far as entertainment value is concerned, the David Cronenberg ‘virus’ thrives. Despite a few too many last-act rug-pulls, so does the movie.”
“No doubt making his father proud,” writes Eric D. Snider for Movies.com, “Cronenberg treats us to several close-ups of needle injections, rashes, and sores, and the stark white floors and walls of almost every room in the film make for a nice contrast when they become (as they must) spattered with blood. But once he’s created his world—and done so with effective, calculated precision—Cronenberg runs into a common problem: what to do with it. The plot involves conspiracies and skulduggery, corporate espionage and nefarious dealings. It is the sort of plot that requires Malcolm McDowell to appear and tell Syd, ‘I’m afraid you’ve become involved with something sinister.’ … And so it’s fair to say that Antiviral is intriguing; it’s just not thrilling.”
“Whatever creative genes he may have inherited, Brandon Cronenberg has his own distinct flair for the grotesque,” grants Justin Chang in Variety. “Among the weirder images and innovations here are a butcher shop that sells what appear to be cuts of meat replicated from celebrity tissue; a TV network that beams out updates 24-7 on stars’ body parts, with an emphasis on crotch photos and colonoscopy footage; a doctor (Malcolm McDowell, quite at home in this bizarro universe) with skin grafts from four different people on one arm; and recurring images of needles being stuck in all manner of imaginative and unwelcome places. On a more prosaic level, the film suffers from basic pacing issues, particularly in its increasingly slack and repetitive second half, by which point the moral rot of nonstop celebrity worship has been duly beaten to death. Icky though it is, Antiviral never builds the sort of character investment or narrative momentum that would allow its visceral horrors to seriously disturb, rather than seeming like choice gross-out moments lovingly designed for maximum viewer recoil.”
“As a stomach-churning, jet-black satire of modern culture, Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral is a resounding success, and is directed with precision and conviction,” writes Brian Clark for Twitch. “However, for these very reasons, it’s also cold, sterile and mostly void of humanity or even emotion. It’s possible that the latter characteristics should be counted in the film’s favor too though, since they are clearly part of Cronenberg’s intention, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s going to actually enjoy watching the thing.”
“Cronenberg takes off down some gratifyingly weird alleys,” writes Megan Lehmann in the Hollywood Reporter, but his “overly mannered approach throws the pacing off.” For indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn, “the strange mix of surreal comedy and sheer visceral weirdness hints at a kind of tonal complexity that Antiviral generally lacks.” The Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth: “While hardly perfect, it delivers the freak fest that fans of David have been missing for the past few years while establishing Brandon as a filmmaker with a bright future.”
Updates, 5/23: Before turning back to the film, a few nifty things. “Tonight is the world premiere of my brother’s film, Antiviral at the Cannes Film Festival! Overflowing with pride!” That’s Caitlin Cronenberg, tweeting the other day. She followed right up with a portfolio of photos from that evening, which you can take a look at in T Magazine.
“As Toronto Film Festival head Cameron Bailey said by way of introducing a conversation with directors David Cronenberg and Brandon Cronenberg here at the Cannes Film Festival, 2012 is the first time the event has ever featured father and son filmmakers in the official selection.” Filmmaker‘s Scott Macaulay was on hand to take notes. Liam Lacey talks with both Cronenbergs for the Globe and Mail.
But back to Antiviral: “In the end, Syd doesn’t wind up anywhere unexpected,” writes Simon Abrams at Press Play. “He’s not a obsessed cipher like Videodrome‘s Max Renn, or a free-wheeling pervert like Crash‘s James Ballard, but rather an embroiled collaborator. His fate is too neat to be really transgressive, an effect which is, ironically enough, one of the most salient ways Brandon Cronenberg’s first work differs from most of his father’s work. On some level, David always knew how to push buttons, even if he did get better at it as he went along. Brandon’s a better scenarist and idea man than he is as a button-pusher though. One can only hope his follow-up is a little more distinct, or, barring that, a lot more confident.”