Movie Review - Antiviral

Writer-director Brandon Cronenberg is clearly condemning celebrity culture, a culture that turns famous people into products that adoring fans like to consume. Instead of taking that culture as a concept and following it to its logical conclusion, Cronenberg gives us something that doesn't quite. If he's going for what I think, his premise is actually non sequitur.

Caleb Landry Jones stars as Syd March, an agent at the Lucas Clinic in Ontario, Canada, who administers drugs to the Clinic's clients. He also collects the drugs and crafts the copyright. These drugs aren't like normal drugs. They're blood samples taken from celebrities with diseases and viruses, which people say they want to have. People in this alternate reality of Ontario want to be injected with the diseases and viruses of famous people.

Unfortunately, I can't imagine this world where people do that. It makes no sense that it would become mainstream. People intentionally making themselves sick is illogical. Cronenberg does other things that are crazy but make more sense, including cannibalism and vampirism because at least those things aren't actions that result in harm or deformation.

Malcolm McDowell has one scene where he sells an aspect of Cronenberg's culture, but the rest is done almost with no foundation on which to stand, at least not a logical foundation. Cronenberg also doesn't give much of a clue of the economy. The opening involves Douglas Smith (Big Love) who plays Edward Porris, a guy who's about college-age and who is obsessed with a celebrity named Hannah Geist, played by Sarah Gadon.

It's assumed that Hannah is a fashion model but Cronenberg never tells us why exactly or how she became such a celebrity or as big a star as she seems to be. Edward, however, wants her diseases, which includes Herpes. Syd administers it to Edward, but we never see money exchange hands, so who knows how much Edward or anyone pays for these celebrity diseases, preventing us from knowing if this is a poor man's escapism or a rich man's indulgence.

There's also a question of how many sick celebrities are there with communicable diseases that this industry can be sustained. We also never know if some celebrities intentionally make themselves sick in order to feed this sick culture. Celebrity culture is in many ways a two-way street, but Cronenberg misses that.

There is a reference to Henrietta Lacks, which is a case that basically devalued a woman's life for her cancer cells. In other words, the person wasn't important, but tiny pieces within her body were. Cronenberg makes this reference and it might ultimately be the point he wants to convey. Yet, the way he tries to convey it doesn't quite connect. Cronenberg becomes more concerned with watching people like Jones, the skinny, frail, long red-haired, pale, freckled man, cough up blood.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 47 mins.


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