★★★★ / ★★★★
The Lucas Celebrity Services Clinic provides a rather… special treatment. Their latest customer is Mr. Porris (Douglas Smith) and he wants to be infected with the herpes simplex virus that was taken directly from a celebrity he admires. One of the clinic’s specialists, Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), advises that he inject the virus on the left side of Mr. Porris’ upper lip because it would appear as though he had been kissed by the celebrity herself. (She has herpes on the upper-right side of her mouth.) Mr. Porris thinks it is a most excellent idea.
“Antiviral,” written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, coruscates with originality so vivid that although its images and concepts are downright disturbing, I found myself unable to stop staring at it. It is science fiction on the surface, horrific just underneath, and darkly comic in its core. It is a most relevant satire of our celebrity-obsessed culture. Here, “following” one’s favorite stars on Twitter or Instagram is not enough to quench the thirst. No, fans must feel a connection—a molecular connection—by housing viruses their idols have or had.
The film is flooded with the color white and geometric patterns. This is especially applicable to interior shots of the clinic which communicates a level of irony. Illusions of cleanliness and control are created but dealing with viruses is never a clean affair and controlling them is possible only to a point. But customers buy them—just as much as they (we) are willing to dive head-first into idolizing a person based solely on their looks, how they perform on stage, television, and movies, or their on-screen personalities.
Jones kills the challenging role as an ace specialist with an extracurricular activity. The magic in the actor’s performance is a go for broke intensity to the point where we feel uncomfortable watching his character’s body writhe in pain and suffering. He does not play Syd to be likable or sympathetic. Instead, he makes it difficult for us to figure out what Syd is thinking exactly. Syd is cunning. His cold gaze is reminiscent of Patrick Bateman’s, after his mask has slipped, in Mary Harron’s “American Psycho.”
A minor problem occurs during the last third. There are too many third parties that crave a piece of the action involving the death of a celebrity named Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon). It is difficult to keep track of them because they appear and disappear without the necessary bridges. The screenplay assumes we already know who they are and their precise endgames. At one point, I was terribly confused as to whether two of the opposing parties were really working together. I had to stop and think it through which disrupted the way I experienced the story’s momentum.
Despite such a limitation, “Antiviral” remains to be a wild and imaginative vision. Technical details concerning in its universe are best left to be discovered. One thing is certain: the material dares us to respond to it. A standout scene involves Syd going to a local meat shop and asking the manager (Joe Pingue) how people consuming the products he serves is not considered cannibalism. After all, the meat being sold from behind the glass is homegrown celebrity muscle cells.
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