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Movie review: ‘Antiviral’ needs a shot of substance

Movie review: ‘Antiviral’ needs a shot of substance
A scene from “Antiviral.”
(Handout)

Even if the horror-thriller “Antiviral” wasn’t written and directed by David Cronenberg’s son, Brandon, this meat locker of a movie might still invite comparisons to much of the elder filmmaker’s signature output.

Stark, startling and weirdly inventive, “Antiviral” is set in a vaguely futuristic dystopia where the cult of celebrity has become that much more, well, cultish. The deal: Fans can get closer than ever to their favorite superstars by being injected with famous folks’ viruses, which are harvested and brokered by high-security clinics.

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Amid the metaphor-heavy madness is Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), a young clinician working both the legal and underground sides of this icky fame game. Pale and androgynous with an addictive lust for the infectious ooze of a gorgeous media star (Sarah Gadon), March proves a unique, tragi-vampiric creation. However, as an involving hero — or, actually, antihero — he’s far too remote.

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Cronenberg opts for style over substance throughout, filling his debut feature with surface characters, hazy narrative rules, icy, white-on-white set design and shots so precisely composed they look feng shui-ed. Even the picture’s selective gore (fetishistic close-ups of needle injections aside) feels overly studied.

Still, “Antiviral” is often fascinating to watch. If Cronenberg’s not yet a dead ringer for his iconic dad, he’s taken an intriguing first step.

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“Antiviral.” No MPAA Rating. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.

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