Tuesday, April 16, 2013


An interview with ANTIVIRAL writer/director, Brandon Cronenberg

Imagine a world, if you will, where celebrity obsession has reached truly disturbing heights. Your neighbour stops by the local butcher on his way home to pick up steaks that have been genetically engineered from cells derived from the latest teen sensation; or maybe your mother stops by the clinic to have the same strain of hepatitis that was once in an Oscar winner, injected into her own blood stream. All so that they can be closer to their idols in ways they never could before. It’s a new world, an unsettling world; it is a world one man concocted in his head in the midst of one heck of a furious fever dream.

“I was in a weird head space, obsessing over the physicality of the disease, the fact that I had something physically in my body that had come from someone else’s body,” explains writer/director, Brandon Cronenberg, of the inspiration behind what would become his senior short film project and eventually go on to become ANTIVIRAL, his first feature. “It struck me as a weirdly intimate thing, someone else’s cells penetrating your cells. It’s pretty sexual and pretty intimate if you think of it that way. I then tired to think of a character that would see disease that way and came up with a celebrity obsessed fan.”

If the whole thing still sounds a bit too much to take, keep in mind where Cronenberg comes from. Brandon is the son of David Cronenberg, one of Canada’s most famous directors, who made a name for himself in the 1980’s as a horror master, with films like THE FLY and DEAD RINGERS. Between his father’s warped inspiration and the celebrity interactions Brandon had growing up, ANTIVIRAL starts to make a little more sense.

Cronenberg checking the playback.

“Obviously through my father, I was exposed to a lot of celebrity,” Cronenberg describes to me when we meet at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, where ANTIVIRAL had its North American premiere, following its world premiere in Cannes. “One of the themes in the film is this disconnect celebrities have as these cultural constructs and media constructs and the human beings that these constructs actually are. It’s not a revelation that what is conveyed in magazines isn’t completely factual, but to really see it first hand, the extent to which that is fictionalized, you can really see how far removed that is from the people themselves.”

Despite growing up around film, Brandon was adamantly against the idea of ever getting involved in it himself for a long time. “Until I was 24, I really hated the idea of getting into film,” he explains of his naturally youthful defiance. “Just because I grew up around it, I would get approached with these preconceptions that I must love film. At a certain point, I realized that this was a bad reason not to get into something I found interesting.”

ANTIVIRAL star, Caleb Landry Jones, in front of a massive Sarah Gadon billboard.

Brandon is also acutely aware of the level of scrutiny he is facing with his first feature, a horror one at that, having come from horror royalty. “In terms of individualism, everybody, well I shouldn’t say everybody, but certainly a lot of people, are affected by our relationship and interpret the film in the context of my father’s career, which was to be expected,” he confides, without a trace of disdain. “I think some of the comparisons are legitimate and some of them are vastly overstated. I was going to get that anyway; I was getting it before I even got into film.”

Regardless of where it’s coming from or why it’s coming his way, Brandon is just excited that people are seeing ANTIVIRAL as a result. “One of the great things about film as a medium is that it is still quite prominent in our cultural landscape. People still get angry about film. People still react to them very strongly. This degree of scrutiny is very strange to experience but it’s also great because I just want people to see the film. I’m happy to have it.”

See it, they will, but if they’re anything like me, they might have to look away from the screen now and then because ANTIVIRAL is just that horrifying. But have you really done your job as a horror director if that doesn’t happen?

ANTIVIRAL is now playing in American theatres and is available on Blu-ray and DVD in Canada.

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