A constantly glowering, long haired Caleb Landry Jones leads the picture as Syd March, an employee of the Lucas Clinic who trade in a rather bizarre business. In the world of the film, celebrity obsession has jumped a few levels, and Lucas allows clients to inject themselves with the same virus or illness their favorite stars catch. A unique scientific development allows Lucas to modify the diseases so they're not contagious. But of course, as with any trade involving pharmaceuticals, there's a black market, and Syd has carved out a unique niche. Using his own body as a vessel to smuggle diseases out of Lucas, Syd hooks up with Arvid (Joe Pingue), a twisted butcher who deals in cuts of meat grown from celebrity cells, to sell his pilfered wares.
Brandon Cronenberg is clearly eager to make a name for himself and like most young film directors, "Antiviral" is bursting with visual flourishes and ideas. Cronenberg adopts a sterile aesthetic -- there are a lot of white, minimalist rooms -- a deeply mannered storytelling technique from the performances to the pacing, which recalls Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty" to a certain degree (the opening title treatment is not unlike "Antichrist" either). But unfortunately, these tics get in the way of the movie. Specifically, the film's momentum and sense of suspense is constantly being held back, rather than enhanced by the actors' delivery. And this isn't helped by a script that takes nearly half the running the time before the story really gets moving.
Though it takes a bit of time to get rolling, and while it's flawed in ways that many first features are, Brandon's first film shows tremendous promise. The second half is where "Antiviral" really shows off his stuff, with a deliciously dark streak and an undeniably unique narrative that goes to some fascinating, twisted places. It's exactly the oddball and crooked tale you'd want and expect from a Cronenberg with all the gratuitous blood, pus, bone and multiple closeups of needles piercing skin you could ask for. Dad would be proud. [B-]
This is a reprint of our review from the Cannes Film Festival.