Cronenberg junior shrugs off dad's shadow in Cannes

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Brandon Cronenberg fought the film bug for a long time before deciding to walk in his father's footsteps, the Canadian told AFP as he made a keenly-awaited big screen debut in Cannes.

David Cronenberg -- in the Palme d'Or race with the thriller "Cosmopolis" -- cheered on from the audience Saturday as his 32-year-old son premiered his first feature film, "Antiviral", in the Riviera festival's new talent section.

The tense sci-fi thriller, a parable on celebrity worship where obsessive fans inject themselves with diseases culled from the bodies of their idols, has drawn all the inevitable comparisons with Cronenberg senior.

"Pass the sick bag, there's a new Cronenberg on the block," was how the Hollywood Reporter cheekily summed up the work, which is right up there with the likes of his father's "Crash" or "eXistenZ" when it comes to body-horror.

"I've been getting a lot of questions obviously about that," the slender young man, with cropped dark hair and nose- and ear-studs, told AFP at a round-table interview on Sunday.

"He's my father, we share genes and I grew up with him," he smiled. "So I feel like the fact that we share interests and there might be some overlap in our aesthetic sensibilities is to be expected."

"I was a little worried about it at first, and then I realised it's going to completely define me in everything if I let it be a serious concern. So I just stopped thinking about it."

"I was just going to do what was interesting," he said.

As a young man Brandon worked on several films with his father, including on the special effects of the 1999 "eXistenZ", but the elder Cronenberg was "not involved at all" in making "Antiviral".

For a long time, he resisted going into directing for fear of being stuck under his father's shadow.

"I was put off by people's preconceptions, I encountered a lot of people who assumed that I wanted to walk in my father's footsteps and that kind of turned me off.

"But I had these scattered creative pursuits -- I was interested in writing novels, and I was doing visual art, and I worked as an illustrator a little bit and was playing music.

"And at a certain point... film seemed like a way to collect those interests into one art form."

The idea for "Antiviral", which is running for the Camera d'Or first film prize in Un Certain Regard, came to him almost a decade ago in 2004, during a bout of sickness.

"I was having a kind of delirious fever dream and I was obsessing over the physicality of illness and how I had something in my cells, in my body, that had come from someone else's body and how that was a sort of strangely intimate connection," Cronenberg said.

It later occurred to him to use the idea as a platform for discussing modern society's obsession with celebrities.

"It's an incredibly common aspect in our culture but it's something I find kind of strange and grotesque at the same time," he said. "I think it connects to broader human impulse to deify people and tear them apart afterwards."

"Antiviral" tells the story of Syd, an employee at a clinic which injects paying customers with diseases culled from the bodies of celebrities -- a patch of eczema here, a flu virus there -- as a means of offering them an intimate bond with their idols.

To supplement his income Syd -- played by Caleb Landry Jones -- smuggles out viruses in his own body and sells them on the black market.

But things take a dark twist when one of them proves fatal to its starlet host, and Syd is swept up in a web of commercial espionage, against the graphic, blood-spurting backdrop of his physical decline.

Much of the film unfolds in a clinically white atmosphere, a way for Cronenberg to have "control over what was the focus of each frame", like the giant celebrity portraits covering the walls.

"And blood stands out on white really well," he added, deadpan.

The Hollywood Reporter regretted that Cronenberg "loses his grip on the material" towards the end of the film, which it described as "a petri dish of high-concept perversity and cultural commentary teeming with lo-fi ickiness."

"But it's early days. Brandon Cronenberg is the scion of a phenomenon, working in the same freaky field, so the curiosity factor is high."

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