Sunday, February 17, 2013

Antiviral: Long Live The (New) New Flesh

The term body horror refers to horror stemming from the one thing we can't escape - our own flesh. When our own bodies rebel against us, there really isn't anywhere to turn, and this is an idea that goes all the way back to things like zombies and werewolves. The flesh gets a mind of its own and starts walking around without a soul to guide it, or decides to contort itself into inhuman shapes, and that's terrifying. I think that at its heart, it's the terror of alienation - if we are somehow made separate from our bodies, if our flesh just becomes some sort of meat vehicle, then what's left of us? 

Antiviral explores the slow - and worse, willing - erosion of the flesh and the self.

It's the story of Syd March, one of many little people in a world consumed by celebrity. It's celebrity abstracted to the point of names and faces, devoid of context or function outside of being famous for whatever it is they're famous for.  Magazines, pictures, 24-hour news feeds about every trial and trouble and ache and pain, all a constant hum in the background of daily life.  Syd is a sales rep at a "celebrity services" clinic, which is a very polite way of saying he sells celebrity infections. People pay money, pick an illness (harvested from celebrities who willingly sell even their diseases to an adoring public), and Syd injects them with the disease. Why buy their clothes and wear their perfume when you can have their symptoms and house the viruses that once lived in their bodies inside yours?

Syd does a nice bit of work on the side cracking the copy protection on the diseases his clinic sells and passing them along to pirate clinics, and though it means suffering all kinds of weird shit (how else to smuggle them out but in his own body?), he does okay, until an attempt to scoop his competition lands him in much bigger trouble that he ever expected. To say much more than this would be doing the viewer a disservice, because so much of the movie is the gradual discovery of just how far people are willing to go to get close to their favorite celebrities. It's basically a noir about a man who knows too much, but it's the world in which it takes place that does most of the work here. What's not just acceptable but everyday trade is as much a source of horror and disgust as the central conceit of the film, and as events play out, the story spirals into a nightmarish blurring of the lines between biology, technology, life, death, desire, and identity. 

It's as much science fiction as body horror (the world in which it takes place owes a lot to William Gibson's ideas of celebrity as abstracted from the individual, and the idea of the ultra-wealthy as no longer human), and the film moves between the slick, stark, minimalist look of the clinics and March's apartment, the grungy, industrial behind-the-scenes world of the brutally practical factory technology needed to service the demands for celebrity "product," and the genteel old-world elegance of the very rich. Much of the movie is an exercise in visual contrasts, with sprays, smears, and fungal spreads of red (bricks, flowers, blood, lots and lots of blood) against stark white - the fantasy contrasted with the ugly necessities of maintaining it. The cool elegance of a needle and scalpel against the blood it draws and the flesh it cuts.

That David Cronenberg's son made this movie is even thematically appropriate - it's a neat synthesis of his father's early work, dealing just as much with the intersection of flesh, technology, desire, image, and identity as anything Cronenberg did, almost as if those ideas propagate genetically from father to son, or as vulnerability to the virus of those ideas might, as well as the desire to commit those ideas to image through the use of technology. It's a dispassionate, confidently made look at our bodies, our selves, and how far we'll go to give them up for unrequited adoration.


  1. Where did you get a chance to see this, Cliff? It sounds (and, from the trailer, looks) amazing, but I can't find it in any of the usual places.

  2. I can't say, but according to IMDB, U.S. release dates are coming soon.

  3. Heh, thanks. I watched it-- probably the same way you did-- and was really impressed. I thought the final shot was superfluous and it annoyed me a little; but otherwise, the whole thing was elegantly understated and detailed. Another film dealing with the same themes might have lingered on hallucination setpieces and other effects-laden imagery, and I appreciated Antivirus for going a different route.

    I kind of want to watch it again as a double feature with Rabid...