The human face is a powerful messenger. Our brains are attuned to its every nuance. The smallest shift in a musculature can translate itself into complex non-verbal information so subtle, and communicated so quickly, that we often don’t even register it consciously. One could say that for human beings, face is a structure with a high information resolution.
I’ve sat here for the past twenty minutes trying to think of how to start this review, where to go with it and various other little things that are so simple when it comes to most films, but Antiviral isn’t most films.
Director Brandon Cronenberg is certainly no stranger to unusual films. His father has directed some of the most visually disturbing and brilliant films of the 1980s, such as the remake of “The Fly” and this continued throughout his career since. Unusual body modification was a regular theme in David’s films and Brandon seems to be carrying on the family tradition.
The world today is full of people who modify their bodies, from the tame things such as piercings and tattoos, right through to people who make themselves look like a cat. Some people go as far as to have extensive surgery to look like their favourite singer or actor/ress, but I doubt that anyone in their right mind would do what the characters of antiviral do. At least I hope that they wouldn’t.
Set in a future where celebrity has become one of the few things that matter, “Antiviral” tells the story of those who aren’t famous but will do anything to feel famous themselves, including the rather perverse process of purposefully injecting themselves with a harmful virus that their hero has contracted. One person early in the film willingly has the herpes virus injected into his face. This can be achieved at local clinics and that’s where we meet Syd March (Jones).
Syd injects the viruses into the deluded people seeking the feeling of connection with celebrities, but also injects himself on a regular basis in order to try and sell that virus on the black market, something which he achieves by showving a very large cotton-bud through his nose and into the nasal cavity. Everything is going well until he injects himself with a new virus carried by celebrity Hannah Geist (Gadon), only for her to drop dead several days later and with no known cure for the virus (something which he only discovers after injecting himself with it).
As Syd descends further into the illness, he unravels a world full of lies and corruption whilst trying to find the cure.
So it’s a bit sick (pardon the pun) then?
I must admit that it’s been a long time since I felt this uncomfortable watching a film but I suppose that’s what Cronenberg was aiming for and in that sense he has definitely succeeded. He has inherited his father’s tendency to work on body motivation films, such as The Fly, Videodrome, eXistenZ and many others, and taken it down a different path to something that is more disturbing because unlike the subject matter of most of David’s films, the premise for this film is actually not that far from the truth and there are no doubt some people out there who would gladly inject themselves with a virus that their favourite celebrity has. You would hope not but there probably would be.
I mean society today is obsessed with celebrity culture, so who knows what it will be like in the future? People today get famous for having little or no obvious talent and people are desperate now to feel like celebrities, so this film, albeit disturbing, could easily be predicting some sort of warped future where simply looking like your favourite celebrity isn’t enough.
There are a LOT of scenes that just creep me out in this film and in that sense it does any excellent job. It’s not a horror film, let’s set that one off from the beginning, infact I’m not entirely sure what to classify it as. There is a scene where Syd has a grate for a mouth, one where to licks an open wound and many more than I just felt at times that I had to turn off because it was starting to get quite disturbing.
In many ways it’s an interesting concept and certainly mocks society today, but there is very little depth to it overall. The main attraction to the film seems to be the heavy shock value of it’s subject matter, and you just cringe that there are people like that out in the world, but ultimately the story was a bit flat, but more on that in a few minutes.
Casting Jones in the lead role at Syd was a near act of genius as he plays the role excellent and, for lack of better words, has always looked ill anyway. He had been excellent as Banshee in “X Men : First Class” and you tell that he was an actor who would fit comfortably into the outcast role, and that’s precisely what he has done here. Jones is exceptionally disturbing in his own right in this film and very few actors could probably pull off looking ill and actually making it believable.
So with a good director and a good lead, you would expect this to be one of those films that I really liked, but I really don’t. Although the premise is intriguing and it’s is made with such simplicity that it has to be admired, the plot descends into a farce and genuinely seems to lack direction for the majority of the film. I’ve seen a lot of films during my 30 years and very few have had a plot this far fetched or a twist, if indeed you can call what happens in the middle of this film a twist that isn’t necessary, the film would have been better without the twist and just leaving Syd to deal with what is happening and focusing on that. Had it done that it would have actually been a far better film.
The story struggles to move at times, often feeling completely stuck and needs something highly unlikely to be able to move again, which again links in with the twist. I won’t reveal what the twist is but you realise that without the twist, Syd would be screwed and know that he was going to die, which again would make for an interesting film, seeing how someone would cope with dying whilst knowing it’s their own fault, but it chose to give a huge convenience for it to move on and not have that as the story.
Despite Jones being excellent in the role of Syd, he is supported by a very poor cast of secondary characters, none of whom are played with any real quality by the actor/ress and realistically if it was for Jones then this film would be entirely unwatchable.
I was certainly expecting this film to be a lot better than it inevitably turned out to be. It’s yet another example of the difference between concept and execution in film making today and I could sit here listing any number of films where the basic premise is good, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good movie.
Whilst I’m sure David had some stumbling blocks early on, Brandon will certainly have to improve from this in order to become even remotely as successful as his father. The fact that this is to date his only film kind of says it all, then again, David wasn’t known for banging out films every few months either.
Jones produces an excellent performance but that is not enough to save an otherwise flat movie.