Writer/Director Brandon Cronenberg Discusses His Feature Film Debut, ‘Antiviral’

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At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, audiences will be getting a dose of double Cronenberg. Not only is David Cronenberg’s surreal-looking Cosmopolis having its World Premiere but his son, Brandon will also be there showcasing his feature film debut, Antiviral. This sci-fi/horror tale is about a rogue medic played by Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class and The Last Exorcism) who sells sample viruses’ drawn from sick celebrities and sells it to their rabid fanbase. Brandon Cronenberg dabbles in the Body Horror subgenre; his dad’s bread and butter. Antiviral will be competing in the Un Certain Regard category which awards new talent.

I had the opportunity to chat with Brandon right before he made his way to France. I was also treated to several clips from the film. To say the least, I was extremely impressed by what I had witnessed. The footage had a wonderfully haunting quality that kept me glued to the screen. I’m particularly excited by what appears to be a starmaking turn from the utterly captivating Caleb Landry Jones.

BD: First off, congratulations on Antiviral premiering at Cannes. It must be even cooler with your dad’s latest competing there as well.

BC: Thanks so much. It feels great. It’s incredibly cute.

BD: Since he’s been there on numerous occasions, has he prepped you at all?

BC: He’s told me a little bit about it. I still don’t really have a sense what it’s going to be like. I’ve never been there. It sounds like it’s pretty surreal and crazy.

BD: I’m fascinated by your science fiction take on our obsession with celebrity. What in particular inspired the story?

BC: Someone was telling me, I think Sarah Michelle Gellar was on some talk show, said she was sick and something about how she has to be careful or she’ll get the whole audience sick and then everyone erupted into applause and they were like: “Yah! Get us sick!” (laughs). Pretty much if it doesn’t come out this year, it’s going to be obsolete as a kind of satirical piece because it’s only a slight exaggeration of what’s already going on out there.

BD: Outside that thematic element, was there anything else that was source of inspiration?

BC: Actually I was having this fever dream and I was sort of obsessing over the physicality of illness and the fact there was something in my body that had come from someone else’s body and that was the source of the illness. Something from their cells was in my cells. So I became to obsess over that intimate connection. It occurred to me if you think about it the right way, a very intimate connection. That came first then I was thinking about it more and it seemed like a good platform for discussing celebrity obsession in our culture.

BD: What I noticed on-set, the production stills and via these monitors is the strong white aesthetic you’ve chosen for your film. You see it in science fiction fare such as Alien and 2001 but in horror, things are mostly lurking within the shadows. What made you decide on this particular look?

BC: When you have most things in the frame white, it really allows you to focus on specific things. For instance in this frame (he points to the monitor), the faces of the celebrities really pop out. It really draws your attention to the faces and to the celebrity news television. Also, there is a blood theme and a red theme. Blood really pops beautifully on white.

BD: You seem to have a love for static, beautifully composed shots. Can you tell me a bit about these choices and the films that influenced your style in Antiviral?

BC: I think I’m partly obsessive-compulsive when it comes to visuals, composition and framing so part of it is that. In terms of influences, we ended up watching a lot of Dogtooth. Do you know that film?

BD: I don’t.

BC: It’s great. It’s by this Greek filmmaker, (Giorgos) Lanthimos. He has that fixed camera and with a little handheld as well which there is some handheld in our film. I don’t think that influence ended up being very visible in the final product but that sort of approach of alternating between very rigid, symmetrical, structured frames and then a little freeform, handheld stuff might be one influence.

BD: One thing that stood out from my visit to the set was undoubtedly Caleb Landry Jones. During my chat with him, he was totally in the zone, completely in character which in retrospect makes him the ideal choice for a film dealing with obsession. I’ve never seen such dedication from an actor. What drew you to him?

BC: We saw footage from some films he’d been in, an audition he did from another film and it was just immediately exciting. You’ve seen him onscreen, he’s captivating. He could do anything and you just want to look at him. Then what I didn’t realize until we started working together is he’s an incredibly enthusiastic collaborator. As you say; totally dedicated. He gave us everything and more.

BD: Was it pretty instant? It was like a 22 day-shoot, right?

BC: Yah.

BD: That’s pretty intense. Did you notice he was getting deeper into the character as you went on?

BC: Well I think any character develops over the course of a shoot but I mean he was from day one giving us a ton of interesting stuff and playing around, really exploring. One of the great things about Caleb is that he’s this fantastic actor but he’s still young, he’s still exploring his technique so he would do stuff like; before one take of a shot in a certain scene, he just bit the end of a stem of a dried leaf and rolled it around in his mouth for the entire shot. That was the one we used and it was fantastic. I talked to him about it afterward and he said: “I had no idea I was going to do that. I just thought I’d try it out.” He keeps exploring these great ideas from a technical acting perspective.

Antiviral premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday May 19th.