VIFF Day One: Antiviral

Brandon Cronenberg’s first feature is a slick, darkly comic scifi/horror film that should not be seen by anyone with a fear of needles.  At some point, humanity’s obsession with celebrity has metastasized to the point that the world’s biochemists, seeing a market opportunity (as they always do) have begun selling people the real thing: viruses drawn from celebrity bodies so you can be infected with the same thing as the pretty girl in the tabloids; steaks grown from celebrity cell scrapings so you can make your dinner a literal communion.

One of the virus salesmen, played by Caleb Landry Jones, has a sideline in the black market, infecting himself with the celebrity bugs and selling them to disreputable folks.  But when he infects himself with a new virus that appears designed to kill its celebrity, the film becomes a modern version of the film noir classic DOA, will our hero figure out who poisoned him in-time?

Cronenberg films in static takes, in frames almost completely white but for some black highlights and the occasional splatter of blood (an effect of the virus).  Jones fits this scheme perfectly: gaunt, pale and freckled, with red-hair and glassy eyes, his body mirrors not only the effects of the virus but the world around him in the remarkably physical performance this remarkably physical film demands.

Unfortunately, the premise of the film totally misinterprets the nature of celebrity obsession.  While many celebrities are beautiful, it’s not their bodies that attract such attention: there’s something more ephemeral about fame, more transcendental.  The act of celebrity worship, like all worship, is less about the body than about the spirit, about moving beyond our own bodies into a higher, non-physical realm.  The film asserts instead that it’s the desire to touch physical perfection that drives the celebrity machine.  Such a materialistic view of fame misses its most important aspect, and thus the film doesn’t really work as satire because a world like this could never actually exist; satire requires grounding in a recognizable reality.  But if you ignore that and accept the crazy logic of its world, Cronenberg’s created a very twisted place that’s a lot of fun to get grossed-out by.

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