Brandon Cronenberg – son of the Canadian film legend – says the idea for his debut feature, Antiviral, came to him when he was in bed with a nasty flu, having a "fever dream."
"I was very sick and I was obsessing over the physicality of illness, the fact that something in my body and cells came from someone else," says the quiet, self-effacing young man who was still reeling yesterday from the news that his first full-length feature would be screened at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival in May. "The intimacy of that obsession seemed like a good platform to talk about celebrity obsession."
Shot in 22 days on a $3.3-million budget, Antiviral follows Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), a clinician who sells injections of live viruses harvested from sick celebrities to obsessed fans. The sci-fi thriller also stars Sarah Gadon (a Toronto native with a role in the elder Cronenberg's Cannes-selected film Cosmopolis) and Malcolm MacDowell ( A Clockwork Orange).
Perhaps genetically predisposed to explore some of his father's favourite themes – sex, violence, horror and identity – Brandon's feature doesn't shy away from blood, either.
"I think there was actually more blood than he might have first imagined," says Rhombus Media producer Niv Fichman of Cronenberg junior's film. "There are lots of oozing sores and needles. Many, many scenes get under your skin."
But Fichman added on Thursday that while there are similarities between the father and son's oeuvres, the younger Cronenberg's work is also distinct.
"I like to say he's from the same seed, but a different tree. Undeniably there is a connection – and Brandon's directing style is similar to his dad's in that he's very focused, calm and knows exactly what he wants to do – but [he]leaves his own stamp on this film. Antiviral is directed by someone who really understand their craft."
A 32-year-old with the same tall, lanky frame as his dad – but also a nose ring and eyebrow stud – Brandon is the elder of two children the director had his wife Carolyn. His sister, Caitlin, is an accomplished photographer who shot the publicity stills for Antiviral as well as Cosmpolis. His half-sister, Cassandra, has worked as an assistant director on films.
Brandon says he shot his first short with a neighbourhood buddy. Again in classic Cronenberg fashion, it "involved a severed finger and a dead body in a garbage can."
But until he was 24, Cronenberg says he had no intention of getting into film. It was 2004 when enrolled in Ryerson's film program, and his love affair with movies officially began. In first year, he started working on the script for Antiviral as part of a school project. In his fourth year, he made the short film, Broken Tulips, which hit the festival circuit and eventually morphed into the full-length feature. The film was shot in Toronto (where Brandon lives with his long-time musician girlfriend) and Hamilton.
Now frantically working around the clock in the sound editing booth to have Antiviral ready for its world premiere in the south of France, Cronenberg says he hasn't had a chance to really digest the fact that Antiviral will have a red carpet screening prior to a gala screening for his dad's Cosmopolis.
"I was shocked when I got the news," he says. "We didn't want to consider it too much as a real possibility."
His dad, he adds with a laugh, was one of the first to call and congratulate him.
"Let's just say it's all very adorable over there [at the Cronenberg household]" he says with a shy grin.
Note to readers This story has been modified to reflect the following correction: Cassandra Cronenberg has worked as an assistant director in film. Incorrect information appeared in Friday's paper.