Sunday, June 30, 2013

30 Days of Nightmares #30: ANTIVIRAL (2012)

The Story: A young man selling celebrity diseases to obsessed fans gets caught in an elaborate web of industrial piracy after infecting himself with a famous actress's terminal illness. 

Expectations: Proof that David Cronenberg's son Brandon is just as warped as his old man.

Reaction: Some time ago, I got into a discussion with a friend of mine about the difference between obsession and addiction.  He didn't make much of a distinction between them, but I do.  To me, the term "obsession" does not necessarily connote adverse health effects.  "Addiction" does.  This distinction is at the heart of Brandon Cronenberg's directorial debut.

In the perverse world Cronenberg has created, people are not merely obsessed with celebrities; they are addicted to the possibility of physical intimacy with those celebrities.  It's not enough to watch or read about celebrities, or to follow every move they make, or to meet them in person, exchange a few words and shake their hands.  These addicts literally graft celebrity skin cells onto their bodies, consume celebrity stem cell steaks for dinner, and inject celebrity diseases into their bloodstream so that they can feel "closer" to the objects of their affection.  Such habits obviously have adverse health effects, to say nothing of the psychological effects.  Malcolm McDowell has a great cameo as a doctor/addict who notes that he doesn't believe in God, but who argues that such habits bring him closer to a God-like "collective I."

I can't remember the last time I saw a horror film that had such a brilliant and daring story concept.  I really liked the idea behind THE PURGE (it sounded like the setup for an early Richard Bachman novel), but -- to me, at least, ANTIVIRAL is more believable.  We are, after all, already living in a culture where a lot of people feel entitled to some kind of intimacy with celebrities... and where most people will do just about anything to become a celebrity.  At what point does obsession turn to addiction?  How about when a culture eliminates the perceived boundary between the two?  In the end, addiction knows no boundaries. 

Fans of David Cronenberg's early work will undoubtedly be pleased with this film, because it has the intellectual weight and the visceral impact of movies like SHIVERS and RABID.  It also has an aesthetic quality and an emotional tone reminiscent of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.  Lead actor Caleb Landry Jones reminds me a lot of the young Malcolm McDowell... or maybe even a young Brad Dourif (WISE BLOOD era).  In short, this is a worthwhile film for serious horror fans.  It's not perfect, but it's ambitious enough to make me forgive any shortcomings. 

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Like the best horror movies, this one offers a finale that tops everything that has come before it.  A good note to end on.


  1. Another wonderful segment in this series of yours, Joe. Well done, my friend, and thanks.

    1. Thank you, Michael, for following this crazy experiment and for chiming in along the way!