CANNES, France Syringes of infected blood, festering sores and sterile white labs are the images of "Antiviral", as young film maker Brandon Cronenberg borrows themes of disease and bodily transformation that have made his father David king of the body horror genre.
"Pass the sick bag, there's another Cronenberg on the block" read the headline of the Hollywood Reporter's review after the film debuted at the Cannes film festival, part of the "Un Certain Regard" competition for emerging directors.
Antiviral follows clinic worker Syd March, played by Caleb Landry Jones who with his pale skin and lanky frame has the look of a young undertaker.
Syd's job is to sell obsessed fans their favourite celebrity's infections. The world Cronenberg paints is bleak and cynical, and he is unsparing with his closeups of needles entering veins.
Grey-hued steaks made from celebrity cells, skin grafts from celebrities' skin and copious amounts of vomited blood all have a place in the thriller, which despite the nausea-inducing horror, moves at the speed of a clinic waiting room.
Cronenberg, 32, told Reuters his debut feature was "one manifestation of a broader human impulse, to deify people, to create gods and then tear them apart.
"I find it fairly fascinating," he said of celebrity culture. "People are so incredibly fanatical, that never ceases to amaze me how crazy people are. I think it can be incredibly grotesque at times."
As for his famous father, Cronenberg said he had never pushed him into film: "When I decided it was something I wanted to do, he was completely supportive.
"I have a great relationship with my dad so being able to share this together is really cute and emotional," he said of being in Cannes together. "He's very cute."
"SCI-FI VAMPIRE THRILLER"
David Cronenberg - who attended Antiviral's press screening along with Tim Roth, president of the Un Certain Regard competition's jury - is one of Canada's best-known directors for his dark films like "The Fly" and "Crash".
Dubbed the "Baron of Blood," the elder Cronenberg favours themes that deal with psychological and physical deterioration and disease.
He is in the running for the Palme d'Or this year with "Cosmopolis", which stars "Twilight" star Robert Pattinson as a privileged New Yorker whose ride across town in a white limousine sets off "the most decisive 24 hours of his life."
Film reviews following Antiviral's premiere pointed to a confused plot and mannered style that prevented the film from delivering the satirical wallop its subject merits.
"Brandon Cronenberg's feature debut is a cybermedical sci-fi vampire thriller that battles constantly, and with only limited success, against its ludicrous script," wrote Screen magazine.
But celebrity obsession is a worthy target and the young director is sometimes spot on, as when one of the clinic's employees notes that there is a growing market for the ringworm virus from an A-list celebrity's dog.
"Celebrities are not people. They're group hallucinations," says the owner of the clinic, indirectly pointing the finger at society at large for its destructive fixations.
Malcolm McDowell makes an appearance late in the film as a doctor who tries to rid Syd of disease and his performance helps ground the film.
His casting inevitably reminds the viewer of the classic "Clockwork Orange," with its own unforgettable look at medical experimentation.
(Additional Reporting By Cindy Martin, editing by Paul Casciato)
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