Cronenberg on Antiviral’s evolution

The young director's feature debut will bow at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 10 at 9 p.m.

In many ways, screening Antiviral at the Toronto International Film Festival is a lot like a homecoming for Brandon Cronenberg.

Though the Toronto-shot sci-fi thriller is his first feature-length film, this will be the young director’s third trip to the festival.

“It’s very exciting because I live in Toronto and I have a relationship with the festival,” he tells Playback.

“I’ve had a short film [The Camera and Christopher Merk] here, and a student film [called Broken Tulips] that was based on the feature script that became Antiviral played here. So it’s kind of exciting to be able to come back having made the feature,” he adds.

Antiviral made its world debut at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard program, but despite this coup, associate producer Kevin Krikst says making the festival rounds continues to be a challenge.

“For us [the big challenge] is the subject matter,” he tells Playback.

Antiviral isn’t necessarily for everybody. Some people are going to love it and some people are going to hate it. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit in the right slot at the right time for the right demographic, and just making sure it fits for your film,” he explains.

Indeed, the film, which stars Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon and Malcolm McDowell, tells the morbid story of Syd March, an employee at a clinic that injects celebrity-obsessed fans with viruses harvested from their favourite stars.

When he becomes infected with a virus that killed an adored starlet, he must unravel the mystery surrounding her death before he suffers the same fate.

Unsurprisingly, Cronenberg says the film’s premise was inspired by a time when he himself was sick.

“I was sitting in bed in this delirious fever dream and obsessing over the physicality of illness and how I had something in my cells and body that had come from someone else’s body and how there’s a weird intimacy to that connection,” he explains.

From there, he adds, the film “developed into an interesting metaphor to discuss celebrity culture.”

Antiviral was produced by Niv Fichman of Rhombus Media, with Karim Hussain as DOP and Avrinder Greywal as production designer.

It received financing from Telefilm and the OMDC, and is now being distributed in Canada by Alliance Films and in the U.S. by IFC Midnight and is represented internationally by sales agent TF1.

The film will bow at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday Sept. 10 at 9 p.m., with a second screening Wednesday Sept. 12 at 2:45 p.m.

Following TIFF, Antiviral will head to the film festivals in Calgary and Vancouver, and Krikst says a theatrical run is expected in October.