Brandon Cronenberg hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to distance himself from his father’s work here. His first feature has weird medical practices and perverse ideas aplenty. In a world where the hysteria surrounding celebrities has spawned a number of spin-off industries well beyond the racks of gossip magazines, you can buy pounds of lab-grown celebrity meat, celebrity skin grafts, and, in the clinic where Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works, get yourself infected with genetically modified exclusive celebrity diseases. Syd’s an effective salesman, trusted in the company, but he’s got a little dirty business on the side, infecting himself with the valuable maladies and passing them on to his underground contacts. Unfortunately, one of the new infections proves to be far more virulent than he expects, and he finds himself a seriously sick and seriously desirable man, with criminal and legitimate interests vying to exploit the strange new superstar virus coursing through his veins. As Malcolm McDowell informs him, ‘I’m afraid you’ve become involved in something sinister’.
If we must make comparisons with his dad’s oeuvre, and, y’know, it’s begging for it, then Antiviral continues in the vein of the 80s Scanners/Brood/Videodrome period, though it lacks their pulpy forward momentum and energy, and takes a while to get going. What it does have is a well thought through look of gleaming white surfaces and strange technology, a lot of woozy discomfiting camerawork and a fantastic sound design that pulses and throbs menacingly, combining to create a queasy subjective experience. Cronenjunior sets out to make you unwell watching his film, and has succeeded admirably: it builds into something truly troubling. He’s aided hugely by the extraordinary-looking Caleb Landry Jones, pale of skin and red of hair, who adds flesh and blood to an intentionally blank and unknowable lead, stripped entirely of past and personal clutter. Good stuff, very promising, though I’d steer well clear if you have a thing about needles – and don’t expect a McDonalds tie-in campaign…..