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Stars: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Douglas Smith, Joe Pingue, Nicholas Campbell, Sheila McCarthy, Wendy Crewson, Malcolm McDowell

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

“The name’s Cronenberg – Brandon Cronenberg!” So, the old Hollywood aphorism is true then. The son also rises.

So, how then does David Cronenberg’s writer/director son rate as a maker of macabre movies in the complete Cronenberg oeuvre?

On the credit side, Brandon C’s first stab at a horrorflick looks terrific. The combination of predominantly white settings (production designer Arvinder Grewal and Karim Hussain’s bright cinematography are considerable advantages and make the most of the wide screen) and lead Caleb Landry Jones’s matching, painfully pale freckled face, Antiviral comes over as almost as sterile as the conditions in which the McGuffin – in the future, people buy celebrities’ diseases in order to further bond with their idols in the most intimate way possible short of sex.

Jones works in the laboratory of The Lucas Clinic for the Connoisseur where appropriate viruses are cobbled together and earns an extra income by smuggling viruses out in his own body to sell them. Unfortunately for him, he becomes infected with the same deadly virus that killed his media darling Sarah Gadon and has a race against time to try and save himself…

Antiviral scores strongly while setting the stage for the story, helped by Jones’ near-corpse-like appearance and for (people afraid of hypodermic syringes should look away now) a series of scarily real close-up injections (painfully to the point in every case), the first of which – a vey close shot of Jones being injected in his cheek, could well scare a dentist.

While Cronenberg rather runs out of steam bringing his story to its final resolution, it's never boring and his riff on Jekyll and Hyde, as Jones goes through his transition from ‘normal’ to desperate is often unexpected. It’s more an arthouse movie than mass entertainment but that said, horrorflick fans should be happy enough and Cronenberg Senior need not consider changing his name – or, more likely, getting his son to do so.

Jones is fine for purpose and creepier than he needs to be at times and, in a minor role and looking his age and then some, Malcolm McDowell is good value as an older and wiser doctor who advises Jones. Other roles are basically filled perfectly adequately.

It’s clear Cronenberg Jr has talent. His next film should prove whether it's sustained or really that different. In the meantime, let me praise him for one particular line, which I found far, far sharper than the all-too frequent hypodermic needles that infest Antiviral.

And the line? “Celebrity is not an accomplishment!” How painfully true. If only celebrities realised this truism.

Alan Frank

Canada/USA 2012. UK Distributor: Momentum. Colour.
119 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 2, Swearing 2.

Review date: 20 Jan 2013