It’s been a while since I felt compelled to write about a cultural artifact, but the tide is turning. A couple of days ago I was in the twilight zombie state between consciousness and sleep, browsing the US Netflix site for something stupid and fun to watch, when a description caught my eye:
Antiviral – This wild sci-fi vision imagines a freaky future where diseases caught by celebrities are put on the market for injection by their obsessed fans.
The concept of commodified bug-chasing piqued my interest, and “Wild” and “Freaky” seemed like appropriate tags for stupid/fun entertainment, so I clicked, knowing nothing more about the film and expecting a low-budget, mediocre “romp”. Fifteen minutes in I began to realize my mistake.
The washed-out, icy palette set the mood for a dystopian future only slightly more obsessed with celebrity than our present, where Syd, a (hot, creepy, ginger) clerk at a luxury clinic, peddles viruses with lines like, ” She’s perfect somehow, isn’t she? More than perfect. More than human.” and, after a sale, offers words of encouragement: “The fever should kick in just in time the long weekend.”
Unease began to set in. I went into this expecting satire, and indeed there was some pitch-black humor to be found: stray bits of newscasts alluding to the current it-girl’s downstairs mix-up, butcher shops selling lab-grown celebrity steak, video billboards advertising famous smiles topped with herpes sores. But there was also more substance than I’d signed up for. The stark cinematography, the (mostly) sophisticated special effects, the creeping pace and the intense, physical acting of the lead, who smuggles viruses in his own body to sell on the black marker, and spends a lot of time looking like a damp, sallow Ann Demeulemeester editorial, drew me in. Dread mounted, disease spread, acerbic sarcasm didn’t let up and then, Syd had a fever dream where the virus became a mass of protruding machine parts inside his body. Suddenly I knew I was in a familiar place. It was… Cronenberg!
Not the Dangerous Method or, god forbid, Cosmopolis Cronenberg, but the David Cronenberg whose body horror themes fused into the fabric of my visual vocabulary when I was a teenager. The Videodrome, ExitenZ, Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers and Crash Cronenberg, who remains one of my favorite filmmakers to this day. But how could this be? I knew that David Cronenberg’s new movie wouldn’t be out til next year, and it’s impossible that a release from him would fly under my radar, anyway. This, then, had to be someone giving a massive nod to one of my favorite film guys.
At that point I felt really conflicted. Antiviral was beautiful, grotesque, engaging – a film I genuinely enjoyed, start to finish. It did all the things I’d been missing in David Cronenberg’s recent work – 2007’s A History of Violence being the last of his movies I’ve liked. Was the value of the movie diminished by its recognizable influences? Should I not have liked it as much as I did? Confused, I decided to find out more about Antiviral, and quickly learned that it was made by a Cronenberg indeed, albeit not David, but his son, Brandon, Antiviral being his directorial debut. Strangely, this discovery made it all better for me, and now I want to pick your brains on this subject.
To me, Brandon’s movie delves further into the themes his father’s work explored, and breathes new life into a filmmaking style I’m fond of – I actually hope for more from him along these lines, as long as he continues to elaborate and innovate. My question to you is: is this lazy? Is it lazy of me, as a viewer, to enjoy someone referencing something I like so heavily? Is it lazy of Brandon, as a filmmaker, to rely so much on his father’s works, or can this be viewed as more of a torch-transfer? Whatever your answer may be, I’d love to hear from you.