Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works at a clinic which caters for a very specific clientele, those of the most ardent fans on the planet. Celebrity obsession has grown to such an extent that the followers of the stars are so determined to be as close to the objects of their adulation as possible that they are willing - indeed, they demand - to suffer the same diseases they do. At the Lucas Clinic where Syd works the clients can apply to be injected with the infection that has come straight from the body of their favourite star, but he has a sideline in that he smuggles the diseases out for the black market...
And smuggles them out in his own body, too, in Brandon Cronenberg's feature debut as director. If that name sounded familiar, it was because his father was that master of Canadian horror David Cronenberg, though at the point Antiviral was released he hadn't made a proper horror movie in ages. Thus when Brandon happened along with a work which sounded a lot like he was picking up where his dad left off, there was plenty of interest from the genre fans, though as it played out not all were quite as enamoured of this as they might have hoped to be. It certainly had that body horror plot to it, but a tone more like Papa Cronenberg's earlier, experimental films.
Which if you liked the cold and, yes, clinical efforts of the early seventies then you would be very intrigued by what was dreamt up here, though just as easily you could find this something of a chore to sit through. If you could put the chilly approach to one side then what you had was essentially an industrial espionage yarn which used the human form as its profit making boost, though Cronenberg would want you to muse over what he was saying about the cult of celebrity too. Had we progressed - or fallen - so far that finding something in common with our star of choice would go as far as wishing to share an ailment with them? The narrative was science fictional, yet you might think they were onto something.
In the world Syd inhabits celebrities are now treated as Gods who walk among we mortals, so to be infected by a disease they had personally is regarded as being touched by the hand of one of those deities. But then there's that black market, and the links our hero (antihero?) has to securing the samples of the biggest female star on the planet, Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon, recognisable from David Cronenberg's films). Although we never find out what it is she does to deserve such worship, perhaps the point is that all she need do is stand around looking beautiful in careful poses and allow her public relations to do the rest in promoting her, which could seem heavy handed on the director's part.
That it didn't was down to his techniques which conveyed aloofness rather than a satire, though the latter was definitely an aspect, simply woven into the sci-fi plotting. When Syd catches a specific disease from Hannah that is actually killing her, it looks like he's hoist to his own petard, and spends the rest of the movie trying to either track down the dastards who are behind a disease genetically modified to Hannah's body, or avoid being captured by them since he has that precious infection coursing through his veins. It should be noted if you're squeamish about needles this was not the film for you, at times it appears as if every character is going to be injected before the credits roll, all in loving closeup of the tip entering the skin and drawing out the blood or putting the virus into it. If that doesn't bother you, there was a punchline to all this which was appropriately callous after all that staggering about coughing up bodily fluids, stating the media was in no way sentimental about exploiting their products. Music by E.C Woodley.