~ Posted by Pip Wroe, February 1st 2013
The lights are blinding, the walls dazzling white: a pale ghost of a man shivers, moans and squirms on a bed in the corner. I shade my eyes from the glare and prepare for the worst. An eruption of glossy, dark blood spatters the pristine floor and the pale hands and feet splash about in the red pool and then smear the walls with blood.
I am nearing the end of "Antiviral"—the first feature film by Brandon Cronenberg, son of David—and nearing the limit of my tolerance for flying fluids. "Antiviral" tells the story of Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), an employee at a clinic that sells injections of live viruses. These are harvested from sick celebrities and sold to obsessed fans. Syd also has a sideline smuggling these viruses out of the clinic (inside his body) and selling them on the black market. After injecting himself with the mystery virus of a young starlet, he learns that the starlet has died. The film follows his efforts to avoid the same fate.
Syd’s decline is documented in a smorgasbord of phlegm, saliva, sweat, blood and needles against a backdrop of sparse, spotless and sterile settings (a sneeze looms like the threat of a bomb). Almost every scene involves a close-up of a needle entering a vein. It makes for hard viewing. Cronenberg leaps to an extreme close-up as a hole is gouged in Syd’s arm and then he holds this close-up as someone digs round in this hole. Whatever happened, you might ask, to the power of the imagination? My spirits were buoyed slightly by the sight of the veteran film critic Mark Kermode, in the row in front, shielding his eyes at the sight of another injection in close-up.
The influence of David Cronenberg is unmistakable. The coupling of social commentary and bizarre, lo-fi tissue/muscle creations, set it in a dystopian vision of now, echoes "Videodrome". However at no point during "Videodrome" or "The Fly" did I feel squeamish. This may be because the special effects have dated or because of the sheer implausibility of the scenes: a man inserting a videotape into his own torso, does, in the hands of Cronenberg Sr, look ridiculous; a man gradually becoming a giant fly is gross without ever feeling unnecessary or sadistic. But the last half hour of "Antiviral" mainly consists of a man throwing up blood. This excessiveness adds little except length to the movie. I shudder to think what the videotape scene would have looked like in the hands of Brandon Cronenberg and his literal, unsmiling lens.
"Antiviral" is released in Britain today
Pip Wroe is the intern at Intelligent Life. His previous post for the Editors' Blog was Football gets graphic