Taking celebrity fanaticism to its most uncomfortable and bloody extreme, Brandon Cronenberg seems compelled to challenge everyone in his audience, whether or not you are bordering on obsession.
Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works for the fictitious Lucas Clinic, a company that sells celebrity viruses and ailments, and even before we watch the ghastly Mr. March take his first dose, he already looks likes death. With the palest of skin and the coldest of eyes, March exists in a world of black and white, literally, as even his red hair and later bloody fits are drowned out; it is a cold, ruthless world.
Donning his black and white suit, he sells disease to those in need of getting that much closer to their celebrity crushes. While March seems detached and deranged, even before he becomes sick, his colleagues are matter-of-fact. It’s just business, and there nonchalance not-so-subtly indicates that everyone accepts this fanaticism as a part of life.
The same applies to his local butcher, who from the collection of muscle cells, has grown and can now sell pieces of celebrities to dig into and eat up.
This is not for the faint of heart or light of stomach, or alternatively, anyone who likes having a message shoved down their throat (and we’re not talking about the star meat). And though at no point does anyone say that the sexy, blond, and famous Hannah Geist (all the celebrities are made up) tastes like chicken, people eagerly await a bite or injection, of herpes or anything else the people who love from afar may have come down with.
To add to the discomfort, this crazed culture, one that is set in the current day mind you, also allows for the more sexually charged among us, to control virtual celebrities, having them do as we wish. When confronted with this opportunity for the first time, March backs off, even at the insistence of the recorded Geist telling him he can do as he please. Cronenberg is more bent on the gross than the perverse, the bloody rather than the sexual.
March complicates his life by smuggling illegally patented viruses in his own body, but his greed gets the worst of him when he unknowingly injects himself with something not just fleeting, but lethal.
When this long journey isn’t uncomfortable, it’s boring. Cronenberg has indeed created something completely unsettling, and shocks come and go, but he struggles to keep up interest. It is a worthy debut, and he looks to be following in his father’s twisted footsteps, but creating a world that is so constantly unattractive may repulse viewers instead of attract them.
The film peaks at the wrong time, and a drawn out ending leaves you caring less about how March and company resolve things and more about when. You definitely do not want to eat anything before watching, and you may be wanting to wait a while after, as well.