Written by Brandon Cronenberg
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Starring Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell
In theatres Oct. 12
It doesn’t take long to realize Antiviral is a film of horrific proportions. Focusing on viral infection and disease, it doesn’t hold back on visualizing the nastiest of psychological and physical symptoms. That said, director Brandon Cronenberg believes if you look past the cringe-worthy blood, injections and rashes, you’ll see a film that’s more than just a simple horror story.
“It’s kind of a romantic comedy,” he argues. “I mean, it’s a little one-sided, but still.”
The romance he’s referring to exists in the typical celebrity-obsessed fan. In Cronenberg’s film, these fans seek the services of Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), who ekes out a living as a technician for the Lucas Clinic, where his job is to extract the diseases that ravage celebrities and inject them into their adoring fans. The film depicts a society in which celebrity obsession has risen to shocking heights, sending clinics rushing to capitalize on the new craze.
Antiviral’s intruiging premise is rooted close to home for the first-time director, who came up with the idea for such a world while he himself was suffering from the flu.
“I was obsessing over the physicality of illness and that fact that I had something in my body that had come from somebody else’s body,” explains Cronenberg. “(It’s) a weirdly intimate thing when you look at it that way.
“I thought that maybe a celebrity-obsessed fan might want to get the disease from the object of their affection as a way of feeling physically connected to them.”
Understanding that he couldn’t hold back in his somewhat disturbing portrayal of the body as a simple commodity, Cronenberg made sure that the horror aspects of Antiviral took a back seat to the message he wanted to communicate.
“It wasn’t really meant to be specifically a gross-out film. It’s about a culture that fetishizes the body, so I think the film had to fetishize the body,” he explains.
While this kind of obsession may seem fairly outrageous, the film argues that perhaps it’s not so far off. In fact, while writing the script, Cronenberg noticed many factual, real-life instances that fit nicely into his obsessive fictional world.
“It’s everywhere and it’s so completely insane already,” Cronenberg argues, recalling a news story he saw about Robert Pattinson’s dog, which was endlessly harassed by paparazzi. In the film, the Lucas Clinic also offers dog owners the ability to inject their pets with the diseases of famous dogs.
“I was doing a lot of drawing from what is already there,” he says.
Still, Cronenberg hesitates to put the onus of obsession solely on fans. To an extent, he feels celebrities themselves are complicit in their own commoditization, finding that more and more strive to make a career simply out of being famous than artistic merit.
“Fame has become so completely removed from any sense of accomplishment,” he says. “(Fame is) no longer the byproduct — it’s the thing itself.”
With Antiviral garnering widespread attention for it’s stark perception of celebrity fascination, the topic of fame appears to be resonating with filmgoers and superstars alike. Cronenberg has already shown his film at some of the most prestigious festivals in the world, and the irony of presenting such a provocative critique at arguably the two most star-studded film events of the year — Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival — was certainly not lost on him.
“It was really surreal, and so much at the heart of celebrity culture. Showing a film like that and then walking outside to the carpet and a bunch of photographers was really weird,” Cronenberg remembers. “But in a way, it’s also kind of the ideal place to have that discussion.
“It was sort of ironic, but also weirdly appropriate.”
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