When Brandon Cronenberg entered the filmmaking scene with his directorial feature film debut, Antiviral (currently available to stream on SBS on Demand), it came with the leadened presence that the Cronenberg name carries with it, and as such, a lot of eyes scrutinised this body horror tale. For a first time behind the camera, Antiviral is actually a solid film. Sure it has its flaws, but at its beating heart is a strong pulse with some decent ideas.
For his second feature, Cronenberg not only raises the bar of his previous outing, but elevates himself exponentially and quite possibly serves up this reviewers favourite movie of 2020.
It’s a bold statement and one that should not be marred by what has admittedly been a crappy year in film distribution due to the impact that COVID has brought to the globe.
Boosted by an incredible cast in Andrea Riseborough (Mandy, The Grudge), Christopher Abbott (It Comes At Night, Piercing), Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, and Jennifer Jason-Leigh, the screenplay (also written by Cronenberg) has the heavyweight performances to pull off a complex, and deeply unsettling narrative.
It’s a wildly compelling premise, which follows agent Tasia Vos (Riseborough) who works for an underground company run by Girder (Jason-Leigh), who infiltrate other people’s bodies through the use of brain-implant technology. The stakes are high and the clientele, lucrative. With each mission, the risk is great and requires not only a great mind, but also the efficiency to pull off these assassination attempts to reap significant profit as a result.
The physician and mental drain on each assignment comes with its own hurdle as you must not only study the person’s characteristics and quirks to ensure that they are still believable to those family and friends but combined with the constant battle with the host’s own mind, the agent’s timeline to pull off the assignment is narrow. Failure would lead to both minds infusing together and potential brain damage. This deadline amplifies the tension much to the delight of the viewer.
The added spanner in the works is that Vos comes with her estranged husband and son. The gulf in their relationship caused by Vos’s work and a constant strain on their lives, and the anchor to her reality that constantly tugs at her emotions and clouds her own motives when carrying out her tasks.
The mission in question is to infiltrate the mind of Colin Tate (Abbott), fiancé to Ava Parse (Middleton) and heir to her father, John’s (Bean) estate. Once in control of Tate, Vos has 48 hours to kill John, Ava, and finally Colin, before being pulled back into her own body once more.
A task that may prove one stretch too far.
From the shocking opening scene, through a brilliantly crafted sci-fi screenplay and an ultimately rewarding conclusion, Brandon Cronenberg has thrown the gauntlet down, commanding our attention as a filmmaker with vision, powerful performances, and a beautifully presented mindfuck.
- Saul Muerte