Caleb Landry Jones and Sarah Gadon don’t quite get under our skin.
ANTIVIRAL (Brandon Cronenberg). 107 minutes. Opens Friday (October 12). See times. Rating: NN
In a world so fame-crazed that people pay to be infected with celebrities' diseases, a black marketeer (Caleb Landry Jones) injects himself with the blood of an ailing superstar (Sarah Gadon) and becomes a pawn in a very deadly game.
Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg has said he's never seen any of his father's (David) movies, so apparently they're in his DNA: Antiviral is basically Videodrome with viruses instead of tumours, right down to the biomechanical hallucinations and the corporate war subtext.
The younger Cronenberg constructs an intriguing alternate Toronto where science has evolved along a slightly different track. Clunky devices that look like microfiche readers analyze viruses, and stem cells of the famous are used to grow pseudo-flesh that's sold to their fans for literal consumption. (Margaret Atwood would probably recognize the metaphor.)
But where Videodrome connected us to its hero's desperation and panic, Antiviral is told so clinically that it might as well be hermetically sealed. Jones is trapped in a role that's never anything more than a scowling, bug-eyed cipher.
And while Gadon's great as the sheltered beauty who may be the only genuine innocent in the whole story - and creates subtle differences between multiple representations of the character - she's only in the film long enough to make us wish she'd stick around longer.