Exclusive: Brandon Cronenberg Talks Antiviral's Origin, Themes, Subtext, and More - Dread Central
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Exclusive: Brandon Cronenberg Talks Antiviral’s Origin, Themes, Subtext, and More

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Exclusive: Brandon Cronenberg Talks Antiviral's Origin, Themes, Subtext, and MoreAntiviral, writer-director Brandon Cronenberg’s debut feature, posits a future in which celebrity culture has mutated to an extreme that is at once a high-tech and a profoundly intimate nightmare.

It is also a return to the themes of body horror as ushered into light so many years ago by his father, David Cronenberg. There is something of Shivers and Crimes of the Future certainly in the subject matter explored, but from a different generational perspective, with different eyes and hands creating this not-too-distant future state as either a warning or a certain prediction. Cronenberg recently sat down with Dread Central to offer some remarks on the filmmaking process and the origin of the film’s themes and subtext.

The genesis of Antiviral was brought on by a real-life circumstance of the writer-director. “Well, I was sick,” Cronenberg remembers. “It was the beginning of film school, 2004, and I was obsessing over the physicality of my illness and the fact that I had something physically in my body that had come from someone else’s body and how that was an intimate thing if you think about it that way. I was trying to think of a character who would see disease as something intimate, and a celebrity-obsessed fan might reasonably see disease desirable if it came from somebody they were obsessed with and want that disease as a way of being physically connected to them. So it kind of developed into a metaphor. I thought it was an interesting frame to talk about that culture. Once I started thinking about celebrity-obsessed fans wanting diseases, it kind of shifted into that kind of discussion of that culture.”

That dystopian culture is not quite so far off as one might prefer to think Cronenberg reports. “The technology is a real thing…You could, so easily, take a cell off of Britney Spears and grow it, so it’s a small step to imagine—for all I know, someone’s tried to do this for kicks already. And I just liked the idea of celebrity consumption being literal consumption.” The ritually cannibalistic, transubstantiative aspects of Antiviral’s central conceit suggest themes beyond merely the technological and the physical. “Celebrity obsession relates to religion. You look at sainthood; it’s the same thing in a way, the way people are elevated almost to the status of gods, and the repetition of images and the physical fetishism of the relics and people claiming to have finger bones from such and such saint…”

Antiviral’s lead, Caleb Landry Jones, gives a striking performance as an increasingly desperate man seeking to solve a mystery and to save his own life. Cronenberg is effusive about his lead actor: “I can’t say enough good things about him. His agent had worked with my producer on a past film, and when we were searching around for people, he said, ‘Oh, hey, why don’t you take a look at Caleb?’ And so we saw a bunch of clips from things that he’d been in, an audition he’d done for another film. He’s just so exciting. He’s just one of those actors that have that special something and you look at him and he’s immediately interesting. Even if he’s doing something totally mundane, he somehow turns it into something interesting, and so we wanted him.”

Exclusive: Brandon Cronenberg Talks Antiviral's Origin, Themes, Subtext, and More

According to the director, Jones’ acting is informed by the actor’s passionate love for film, especially German Expressionist and comedies from the early days of cinema: “He consumes films at a huge rate. He’s way more knowledgeable about film than I am, and he’s ten years younger than me. So he’s coming from a place where he does a lot of that old silent film thing. You can see it in his acting; he’s a very physical actor. Directing him, we talked a lot before we started shooting about the character, and he’s very dedicated and would read and re-read the script and catch things that even I’d forgotten about!”

“For example, there’s one shot, I remember, we were about halfway through the shooting, and after we did the take, he said, ‘Brandon did you like the word I chose? What do you think about me twitching my eye on that word?’ And I was like, first of all it was a wide shot, so I didn’t see that his eye twitched, but I didn’t realize… I mean, as we went on, I realized just how much control over his body that he had. He was picking points in the dialogue to have this little tic and so he had a very detailed technique to take his acting to a strange and wonderful degree. It made it easy to work with him because he just gave me tons of stuff. I would say a little, ‘Do this, do that,’ give him a little direction between takes, but it wasn’t like I had to draw this performance out of him or anything. He’s just really good.”

Cronenberg’s stimulating collaborative experience didn’t just involve those in front of the camera but also included those behind the lens. Like his director father, David, Brandon prefers to keep the shooting process fresh and improvisatory, which makes maintaining a clear connection with his crew essential. “I never storyboard because I don’t like to have that specific an idea before I get there because I feel like it’s more fun to find it. Also once sometimes you have an idea and then you get there and when you’re with the actors and the sets, it changes everything anyway… [Cinematographer] Karim Hussain came into town like a month before pre-production, and we meticulously went through the script and created a very theoretical shot list because we had no actors or anything, but it was just a way of creating the rules, and we were discussing how and what we wanted to do with it. So we had this general idea, and every night we would have dinner with Karim and [First Assistant Director] Rob Cotterill, and I would say, ‘Here are the shots that I’m kind of thinking of,’ and ask if they had any better ideas that they wanted to add.”

Cronenberg finds his collaborators to be a vital resource not only for creative ideas, but also for practical ones: “I mean, I think you need a strong sense of what you’re going to do, but at the end of the day it’s about making the film as good as possible, and if you’re working with good people, sometimes they come with great ideas and you should be open to that. Or there were practical things. I would say, ‘Let’s do fifty shots,’ and Rob would say, ‘Um, we’re going to run out of time so why don’t we prioritize and…’ We referred to Rob as ‘The Adult’ because he understands adult things like that.”

DP Hussain played an essential role in achieving the distinctive look of Antiviral: “He’s a better made Swiss Army knife of cinematographers…He’s technically very skilled so there’s no problem there, but he also strikes a good balance where he has his own good ideas but uses them to support your ideas. He gets very quickly, in my experience, what I was talking about, and it was like, ‘Oh, okay, here are all these other amazing ideas that are linked to that aesthetic and stuff that we can talk about.’ So he was just a great collaborator. He wasn’t a passive technician, but at the same time he wasn’t overbearing and trying to impose his own will.”

With Antiviral Cronenberg establishes himself as a challenging and provocative new writer-director, one interested in using the medium to explore uncomfortable social and psychological terrain. “I wanted to become a filmmaker partly because I needed a job. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was writing and drawing. I wanted to be a visual artist. And I wanted to write novels and be a musician, and at a certain point I realized that was a very bad approach because you can’t get good at all of that stuff so I thought that film would be a good way to collect all of that. So I went to film school.”

“I think that there’s part of film, and the making of film, that reflects what we do in our day-to-day lives that we take these various experiences and we sew them together into narratives and we see causality in the world, but we’re not really seeing causality directly; it’s all in our heads. And that I find really interesting—that if you take two images, which are shot at different times, and are actual documents, because, even when you’re not making a documentary, every time you’re filming something, you’re documenting it. And the fact that you can cut those documented moments together and they connect to each other and the mind fuses them into some kind of causal narrative is pretty interesting to me. So I’m interested in the fact that it’s an art form based on the play of documented moments in order to trick the mind.”

Antiviral (review here) stars Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell, Douglas Smith, Matt Watts, and James Cade.

Synopsis
Antiviral follows Syd March, an employee at a clinic that sells injections of live viruses harvested from sick celebrities to obsessed fans. Biological communion – for a price. Syd also supplies illegal samples of these viruses to piracy groups, smuggling them from the clinic in his own body. When he becomes infected with the disease that kills super sensation Hannah Geist, Syd becomes a target for collectors and rabid fans. He must unravel the mystery surrounding her death before he suffers the same fate.

Antiviral

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Night of the Living Dead 4K and The Silence of the Lambs Come to the Criterion Collection

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It’s been a long time coming for these two classics, especially Night of the Living Dead after the ridiculously bad transfer put out by Mill Creek Entertainment, whose transfer was supposedly remastered from a new 2K scan. I swear I thought it was some kind of a joke when I first put it on to watch. In any event…

IndieWire is reporting that horror classics Night of the Living Dead and The Silence of the Lambs will be added to the 2018 Criterion Collection, a hallmark label for home video cinephiles.

According to the site, Criterion will release a new 4K digital restoration of The Silence of the Lambs, which has been approved by the movie’s cinematographer Tak Fujimoto. Included on the DVD and Blu-ray sets are 35 minutes of deleted scenes and audio commentary from 1994 featuring the late Jonathan Demme (director), stars Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, screenwriter Ted Tally, and former FBI agent John Douglas.

Night of the Living Dead will also be released in 4K with never-before-seen 16mm dailies included as a bonus feature(!).

These will be added in February of 2018 so make sure you save up some cash after the holidays!

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DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!

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Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon

Directed by Adrian Corona


I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.

Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.

Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.

Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.

If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.

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Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review – A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form

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Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes

Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace


“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.

That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.

Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?

At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?

These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.

Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?

It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.

If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.

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