One of the havens for quality indie horror seems to usher in from our neighbor to the north. It can be said that great industry giants like James Cameron have come from Canada, the indie horror scene seems to never be lacking Cronenberg. And it isn’t the pioneering master of uncomfortable and viscerally grotesque horror and special effects that is David. This is something that has been taken up by his only son Brandon with the introduction of the 2012 film ANTIVIRAL. This film is an interesting expose into the world of the modern celebrity, and their overly obsessed fanbase. Though many works have taken up the sociocultural reigns, this film is rather unique. ANTIVIRAL is a story of a character Syd (played by Caleb Landry Jones of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), who works for the Lucas Clinic, which harvests diseases from celebrities and then infects their clientele.
The film is following in the Cronenberg School of filmmaking, concentrating on venereal elements to produce an unsettling effect on its audiences. Though the horrific elements were far and few between, the build-up to each sequence is so potent (mainly due to the performance by Jones) that the slow pace is worth it. The 2-hour film possesses something that later films of his father, such as COSMOPOLIS and A DANGEROUS METHOD, do not possess: it doesn’t feel its length. Now do not mistake this perspective for saying the aforementioned pair of films are bad, they actually can be considered modern masterworks, but this film is far more conducive as a result of the tight pacing, editing and selective characterization. Primarily the only character that the audience follows is Syd, and all secondary characters are given just enough screen time to justify their position and need in the story without excess.
The gore effects are also very sparingly used, only utilized when absolutely necessary that many modern horror films seem to have forgotten, that shock for shock’s sake does not work in its appeal to cinephiles. Indie films have begun a retrospective into the classic age of horror films (1970s-1980s) where suspense and characterization is of higher import than torture porn. It is not to say that those who are within the splatter film subgenre are necessarily poorly done (a genre boasting new additions such as THE ABCS OF DEATH), but the genre has consumed the bulk of major horror releases in the United States since 2000 with the release of the first FINAL DESTINATION.
Ironically it is very much like the 2012 David Guy Levy film WOULD YOU RATHER, which is much more reliant on gore effects than ANTIVIRAL, however it follows along the same vein of build-up being the focus of the film rather than each moment of shock or genuine horror. However, unlike WOULD YOU RATHER, ANTIVIRAL has a very washed-out color pallet as well as more of a social focus rather than an individual one. Also, though its horror is developed from a inert fascination with disease, physical malformation and venereal disgust, the film is far more a mirror into the society it has been unleashed.
Brandon Cronenberg has already proven himself having more than a cursory knowledge of film aesthetic and language, as well as a unique perspective on a tired genre. One of horror’s major stigmas since the 1980s Splatter Boom (thanks to FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH and HALLOWEEN) has been audience connectivity and originality, which, with the advent of the Digital Revolution, has become so oversaturated with crap, that it’s a real trial to discover true gems of indie horror. ANTIVIRAL is a strong, well-paced film with a strong cast (which sports acting legend Malcolm McDowell) and a very tight and sharp screenplay that is as introspective as it is socially conscious. It is truly something that sets a standard for upcoming films following the classic David Cronenberg breed.