BurtonMacReady’s review published on Letterboxd:
Finally got a chance to check out what was one of my most anticipated of the year. The hype was met and exceeded as I can confidently say this is my favorite movie of the year so far and unlike every other film I’ve given that title to this year, that would still be the case even if ANNE AT 13,000 FT is released this year (whose brilliant lead, Deragh Campbell, has a small role here in one scene since this is a Canadian film.)
Brandon Cronenberg’s debut, ANTIVIRAL, was the spitting image of his father’s work. Since David has made it pretty clear he has no intention of making a feature film again, I would’ve been fine with his son continuing down that path for his career. But while the younger Cronenberg shoots affluent urban Canada with the same sinister elegance as the elder (this would make a curiously deranged double feature with DEAD RINGERS) and depicts viscera in a similar way, on the whole this shows very little significant influence from higher up the family tree. Instead, there is a tremendous Ken Russell influence, in particular ALTERED STATES, with most characters being deeply disturbed and trippy special effects freak outs a plenty but also some from Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi work, B. Cronenberg’s contemporary Panos Cosmatos, and even Andrzej Żuławski. The film lacks the manic energy of the last’s oeuvre but it does have a certain abstract psycho-spiritual approach to emotion and ideas that would fit in with his films.
But mostly B.C. has just seriously upped his filmmaking skills. His first film had an interesting setting and some cool moments and ideas but it was also unrefined and tripped up in parts. This has an immaculate mise en scene and by the time you realize it is breaking down around you like the characters’ mental states, you’re already there. He smartly slides the social commentary into the background but ultimately comes to connects it with the main story to form a whole picture of how our technologically connected society blends and erodes our identities.
He has recruited Christopher Abbot, Andrea Riseborough, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The first two are some of the most down to do dark weird movies actors of our time and the last is the grandmomma of that. Abbot turns in maybe the best male performance of the year and his second best I’ve seen after PIERCING (which this would make an even more deranged double feature with). He has to play himself, Riseborough as himself, and everything in between and he does it so well you’re always questioning it. Riseborough has established herself as a true chameleon and her character is as pleasantly ambiguous as the proceedings. JJL does a similar detached professional persona as she did in ANNIHILATION and like in that film, it is eerie and even scary. Sean Bean is also here and not to spoil anything but the film actually seems to be playing with the most famous thing about his acting career.
With this, Brandon Cronenberg has upgraded from “promising newcomer” to “potential major filmmaker of our era.” This is just that fascinating and well-crafted. It is very dark and messed up (when they reveal the scheme like 20 minutes in I was like “this is sooooo messed up” and it goes from there) so can’t say everyone will love it but if you like any of the influences I mentioned or just like a fresh and expansive dark sci-fi films (I didn’t even touch on the connections to 70s paranoid thrillers), you will find an excellent viewing experience here.