Antiviral Movie Review
It may be style over substance, but Brandon Cronenberg cleverly blends his father David's love of medical yuckiness with an elusive Lynchian-style mystery to keep us unnerved all the way through this low-key thriller. And the film also works as a dark satire on today's celebrity-obsessive culture, in which fans will go to any lengths to be closer to their idols. So imagine if they had the chance to share a star's illness.
This is the work done by the gleaming, futuristic Lucas Clinic, where clinician Syd (Jones) works. He injects one patient (Smith) with an STD taken from mega-star Hanna Geist (Gadon). But Syd has secretly given himself a more powerful virus, which he learns is killing Hannah. Now everyone wants to get their hands on him, even as he realises that he needs to find a cure before it's too late. So he gets in touch with Hannah's assistant (McCarthy) and doctor (McDowell), and discovers that there's a conspiracy afoot involving his clinic's main rival.
The idea that fans would go to this kind of extreme isn't actually that unbelievable in a culture in which we watch their every move on reality TV and feel like their friends through Twitter. And Cronenberg's idea goes beyond sharing viruses, including cloned skin grafts and even a butcher (Pingue) who sells meat grown from celebrity cells. While the ideas echo some of David Cronenberg's films (mainly Videodrome and eXistenZ), this is also a strikingly original approach. The imagery looks amazing, with all-white surfaces and a spare use of colour, against which Syd's unravelling physicality looks increasingly garish.
Jones internalises the character nicely, helping us travel down this rabbit hole with him, even if we never understand his motivations. And it's this lack of personal connection that prevents the film from really coming to life. Still, Cronenberg directs his cast to such raw, natural performances that the film can't help but hold our interest. We may not be able to feel the emotions or understand the nuances of the plot, but the premise itself and the superb visual style hold our interest while the nonstop medical nastiness, including more injections than you can count, gleefully gross us out.