Antiviral (2012), Brandon Cronenberg’s debut feature, brings inevitable comparisons to his father. Set in the near future, it’s a story of “biological communion” with cultural superstars via celebrity viruses, black market viral thieves (who use their own bodies to smuggle the cultures), and genetically-modified meat that borders on cannibalism. The rigorously austere, antiseptic look recalls David Cronenberg’s earliest films and the fascination with disease and deterioration of the human body his later work, while its cultural fascination with celebrity and the physical desire to connect is right out of J.G. Ballard. Which isn’t to call it derivative, mind you, merely to trace his inspirations.
It’s a little alienating, I’ll admit, and there aren’t many (if any) relatable or particularly likable characters. Its interest is largely in concept and execution. I appreciate Cronenberg’s interest in simple, basic horrors: a needle into skin, blood dripping from a mouth, an infection spreading over a body deteriorating. No elaborate effects or overkill gore, just red on white, a visual plan that will be a little stark for the mainstream but is effective here. His approach is appropriately intimate and sensuous, physical yet disconnected, and his mix of visual restraint, visual elegance, and conceptual complexity make him someone to watch for. And there is something fascinating and disturbing in the way our ostensible hero (Caleb Landry Jones, perfectly creepy and almost inhuman) makes himself the viral petrie dish for every heist. He’s as addicted to this culture as any of his customers.