FEATURE: Shocktober '15 - Antiviral

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list here.

Antiviral depicts a near-future world even more obsessed with celebrity than the one we currently live in; such a thing is clearly possible. Here, fans have the opportunity to inject themselves with the viruses experienced by their favourite celebs, rendering them joined at a "biological level". The Lucas Clinic provides such a service and has one Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) in its employment. He makes money off the side of his day job by using his body to incubate the viruses and sell them on through the black market. His well-oiled routine falters when he injects himself with the blood of the ill Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), a much loved and popular figure, only to find out the next morning that the current virus killed her.

Tabloid press, gossip mags, reality television all push this idea of consuming celebrities and their lives, but it is a metaphorical consumption. In AntiviralBrandon Cronenberg (son of David) has crafted a bleak satire around the idea of body commodification and that culture, taking our obsessions and making them a literal consumption. That idea gives birth to the film's one of the more disturbing elements as people will buy and eat meat made grown artificially from celebrity cells; it's pallid and fake-looking, but the near-rabid consumers waiting to buy a piece of their favourite celebrity don't care. Faces of famous people adorn the walls of just about everywhere and entire news programmes are devoted to their every move.

Cronenberg isn't saying anything we don't really know about celebrity culture here, but he manages to craft a world that feels remarkably plausible as well as full. Little details are dropped throughout the film that just enhance the fictional landscape and demonstrate how widespread it all is. Conversations that aren't central to the plot are all about the most intimate details of the big name stars or their latest illnesses or relationships. That builds into the corporate satire at the heart of the film in the Lucas Clinic or Vole & Tesser, companies which have literally commodified viruses to sell on to their fans. These companies, like our very own pharmaceutical industry, are always looking for the next big seller with little or no regard to any destruction they may cause.

It's an interesting concept and one which is served, for the most part, well by the film around it. Cronenberg doesn't go for his father's more visceral versions of body horror, though the blood splatters mount up before the end. Despite a couple of very trippy hallucination scenes, he instead opts for something more insidious by having Syd slowly being killed by something we can't see, but is desired by everyone for having been the virus that killed Hannah Geist. There's also something innately disquieting about the idea of people willingly infecting themselves with these viruses whilst living in our own world that does everything possible to stop that from happening. It's body modification at the biological level.

The film's languid pace works to its advantage initially, teasing out the world in which Syd operates and having faith in its audience to piece it all together. It contrasts sharply with the urgency that is exhibited by the ancillary characters, desperate to get their piece of the celebrity pie (or steak), marking Syd out swiftly as almost above this world, taking advantage of it without really buying in. However, when the mystery starts ramping up and Syd's life is in danger, the film barely ramps up a gear and it needs just that little bit more urgency to keep it going to what is a really unsettling and effective ending.

There is a lot going on in this film and for a debut directorial effort, it is remarkably self-assured. However, it doesn't quite capture you enough on a dramatic level and a film can have all the best concepts in the world, but if you start to lose interest in what's happening, something has gone awry. As it stands, Antiviral just about gets away with it thanks to a solid central performance from Jones and an ending to make you shiver.

- Becky

You can find my other Shocktober '15 reviews here.

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