MRR Review: "Antiviral"

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After becoming infected with the virus that killed superstar Hannah Geist, Syd March must unravel the mystery surrounding her death to save his own life. The film stars Caleb Landry Jones and Sarah Gadon.
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MRR Review: "Antiviral"

-- Rating: Not Rated
Length: 108 min
Release date: Nov. 30, 2012
Directed by: Brandon Cronenberg
Genre: Sci-Fi/Horror/Thriller

"Antiviral" is a Canadian sci-fi horror that, while not very popular, performed well among its target audience. The original cut was one of the top contenders in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. However, after receiving some critique, director Brandon Cronenberg edited the film a second time after the festival to tighten the plot. Cronenberg ended up trimming almost six minutes from the final film. Once the film was finally revised, it was then shown to a fresh audience at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. "Antiviral" was one of two winners of the festival's Best Canadian First Feature Film award, sharing the title with Jason Buxton's "Blackbird."

Fans of Cronenberg's other movies were certainly not disappointed by "Antiviral." Like Cronenberg's other films, "Antiviral" is complex and understated, delivering its most intense scenes in a subtle way. While moviegoers who were already Cronenberg fans adored "Antiviral," moviegoers who preferred traditional horror movies with jump scares and other cheap tricks were generally disappointed. "Antiviral" is not a simple film that is only meant to frighten its audience. "Antiviral," like many of Cronenberg's films, is certainly meant to make its audience think. For this reason, "Antiviral" is not a frightening movie for viewers who are usually unshaken by psychological thrillers. However, in spite of its successfully disturbing plot, "Antiviral" is not a perfect movie, and unless its audience is truly engrossed by its unnerving storyline, it is likely to end up coming off as dry or boring.

The plot revolves around a strange man named Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) who works at a clinic that sells injections of viruses harvested from ill celebrities to those celebrities' obsessive fans. Some of these viral cells are then used to create steaks, which crazy fans consume to feel closer to their famous obsessions. Syd March also sells virus samples on the black market, using his body to smuggle them out of the clinic. When he ends up infected with the deadly disease that kills superstar Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), Syd quickly becomes a target for rabid fans and virus collectors alike. Before the disease kills him as well, Syd must work quickly to solve the mystery surrounding Hannah Geist's bizarre and unexpected death.

One of Cronenberg's many strengths lies in his casting, and "Antiviral" is no exception. In spite of being a relatively unknown cast, the actors portray their character well, and Landry Jones's character, Syd March, generates sympathy despite his often villainous activity. In a world where celebrities are almost treated like gods and goddesses, it is difficult to blame Syd for what he does to make a living, and it is also difficult to not root for him as he works to save his life from the disease that claimed the life of Hannah Geist. Unfortunately, in spite of the film's strong points, many viewers were so disgusted that it received very mixed reviews from critics and regular moviegoers alike.

However, while "Antiviral" is certainly disgusting at times, it is important to note that it is not simply a horror film that shocks and disturbs just to frighten its audience. "Antiviral" is both a horror film and an exaggerated depiction of the world's obsession with celebrities. While no one is eating steaks made from the muscle cells of celebrities, it is not much of a stretch to imagine something like that happening in the future, and perhaps such a future isn't too far off. People truly do fixate on famous figures, and while the fans in "Antiviral" are more rabid than the majority of today's celebrity stalkers, it is not difficult to imagine that even the people of today would behave as the fans do in "Antiviral" if they were given the chance. Perhaps that is what makes "Antiviral" truly horrifying. The best horror films are often those we can imagine happening in real life.

Unfortunately, while "Antiviral" is certainly an excellent film, it does have several weaknesses. Its pacing is probably its weakest point. Even though Cronenberg did cut out nearly six minutes from the final film, it could stand to lose a few extra scenes that do not add to the film's plot or character development. The dry parts, which happen at fairly random intervals, actually detract from the film's frightening story by giving the viewer a chance to get comfortable. If "Antiviral" were shorter, it would almost certainly receive a better rating, and it likely would have performed better in general.

Rating 3 out of 5