This week in movies you missed: Writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, son of David, demonstrates the apple doesn't fall far from the tree with this high-concept science-fiction indie.
What You Missed
Imagine if celebrity culture really got out of control, and you have the world of Antiviral. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works at the tony Lucas Clinic, where ordinary people come to have themselves injected with celebrity diseases. Do you worship Beyoncé? Now you can suffer through a flu virus taken straight from her body! And pay for the privilege!
Actually, all the celebrities featured in the film are fictional. The clinic has an exclusive arrangement with blonde bombshell Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), who is so idolized that consumers also clamor for steaks grown from her muscle cells. (And, yes, they eat them. The film's celebrity butcher shop is worth seeing.)
Syd himself is addicted to the viruses of the famous, shooting them up before the general public gets a chance. But when he goes to collect a new bug from Hannah, he gets more than he bargained for. This one is killing her.
Why You Missed It
Antiviral appears not to have played in the U.S., according to Box Office Mojo. It had festival and international play and is now on Netflix Instant.
Should You Keep Missing It?
The concept is awesome. The film's satire of celebrity culture (as seen in snippets from an E!-like network) is dead on. But the movie itself is kind of ... dead.
Cronenberg adopts wholesale the remote, chilly tone for which his dad's cerebral horror films are known. Antiviral is full of silence and white spaces; for a movie in which people eat pieces of celebrities, it's unbelievably tasteful, arty and restrained. (Dare I say ... Canadian?)
And, for a movie that's set up like a thriller, with the hero racing against time to save his own life, it's awfully unexciting. The real problem is that we never learn enough about Syd to care what happens to him.
Jones seems like a fine actor, but the script gives him little to play; we never learn why Syd falls prey to the same fascination that brings clients to the clinic, for example. He has no past, no relatives, no friends except his companions in celebrity virus piracy. He doesn't have the everyman grubbiness that makes us care about James Woods in Videodrome — though a few of the supporting actors do. (Malcolm McDowell appears briefly, among others.)
As Syd gets more and more ill, the movie takes on a hypnotic, voyeuristic quality that is utterly fitting, given its subject. In the end, I didn't mind spending a couple of hours in Cronenberg's twisted world, but I won't say I was never bored.
Verdict: The concept is plenty horrifying, but don't expect a horror movie. I'm eager to see what Cronenberg does next.
In Theaters This Week
The Savoy has The Spectacular Now and Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, which is also at the Roxy. The crew behind Shaun of the Dead returns with apocalyptic comedy The World's End. Horror flick You're Next is getting decent reviews. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is another YA series on screen.
On Video This Week
Amour, Epic and Scary Movie 5.