Look at what happened to Miley Cyrus. The poor thing wags her tongue and twerks in public as an excuse for a song and dance performance. She humps cannon balls buck naked in music videos and magazine covers to escape from being a teen idol. Her sad, pathetic state is attributed to us. We can’t stop talking about her. We can’t have enough of her. The media can’t stop leeching off her.
The only way to realize all this is by watching the fantastic indie horror film Antiviral.
Directed by 28-year-old Brandon Cronenberg, the son of the great David Cronenberg, Antiviral is a swell demonstration of the mantle of cerebral horror cinema being passed from father to son. The film has Cronenberg Sr’s trademark creepy imagery, morbid humor, body horror, stomach turning violence and nihilistic overtones. Most importantly, junior Cronenberg has made his film a clever, twisted thriller to complement its chilling social commentary.
Antiviral is set in a dystopian future where the obsession with celebrities has reached a nauseating zenith. Celebs have sold out so much that food items are retailed with celeb brand names, and there are companies that sell diseases which celebs contract. Caleb Landry Jones stars as Syd, a technician at a pharmaceutical organization that harvests ‘celeb viruses’ and injects them into ‘customers’ who want to experience a connection with celebrities. Customers are given an inventory of various stars and corresponding illnesses, and they choose their favourite celebs after listening to Syd’s lengthy, seductive sales pitch. If this situation isn’t messed up enough for you already, Syd pirates the diseases, getting himself tangled in rival companies, shady mobs and the death of a popular star.
The film dances from satire and allegory in some pretty disturbing ways and it becomes more and more macabre as Cronenberg gets into the technicalities. There is a barely legal ‘meat market’ that sells steaks and flesh products cultivated from movie stars’ cells. There are skin grafts developed from the celeb tissues worn by their fans as tattoos. There is some sort of a ‘copy protection’ system that prevents technicians from duplicating the viruses, with a screen that displays a ghastly version of the celeb’s face. The way Syd manages to override the system and pirate the virus is horrific to say the least. It’s just a gruesome, brutal takedown of pop culture and the ridiculously profitable business that supports it.
Cronenberg mashes the themes of perfection and imperfection brilliantly, juxtaposing the near perfect nature of the movie stars to Syd’s deathly pale freckles. It’s a bit unsettling when you fathom the meta surrounding the film – where cinema is just like the virus and can be sold commercially with digital copyrights, by sucking stars dry just to cater to our greedy little hands. The film also does a great job of establishing the utter lack of tact displayed by large corporations who profit from selling celebrities to their fans. Never before has a film been more relevant to us, and it’s perhaps time to leave Miley alone and think about the fact that we were directly responsible for the dozens of Disney stars ending up in rehab.
(First published in DNA)