TORONTO - First-time director Brandon Cronenberg went to the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year knowing what to expect.
His debut "Antiviral," which screens next week at the Toronto International Film Festival and opens in theatres Oct. 12, admittedly has a few things in common with some of his father David's best work.
It's futuristic. Dark and macabre. Sex is a major theme. And there's plenty of twisted blood and gore.
So he'll forgive filmgoers who see "Antiviral" and instinctively think: "Like father, like son." He was certainly expecting that reaction when the film premiered at Cannes.
"It was inevitable, I think any film that I made would've drawn comparisons — even if the discussion was about the contrast," says Brandon Cronenberg, 32, during a recent interview in Toronto.
"Yeah, it's drawing comparisons to my father's films for sure and I think some of them are legitimate, and some of them are fairly overstated. But ultimately, I don't want to be defined by his career and to do that, that also means not avoiding things that people might see as (similar), just to not have that discussion.
"When I made the decision to get into film, I kind of also decided to not really worry about his career and just do whatever was interesting to me."
"Antiviral" stars Caleb Landry Jones (who played Banshee in "X-Men: First Class") as a purveyor of celebrity sickness. He sells injections of viruses that once lived inside famous actors and actresses to obsessed fans who are willing to pay top dollar to feel closer to their idols. Sarah Gadon ("A Dangerous Method," "Cosmopolis") plays starlet Hannah Geist, whose illness triggers a feeding frenzy for her blood.
"Antiviral" has been a long work in progress for Cronenberg, dating back almost a decade to his film school days. The script has gone through as many as 30 revisions and was still in flux even during the early days of the film's shoot, Cronenberg confesses.
"It evolved a fair bit. Conceptually it was always sort of the same but it followed different characters, had different protagonists at one point, and the structure changed quite a bit," he explains.
"I kind of forget how I envisioned it in the beginning, I think maybe I was imagining something a little more naturalistic and we stylized it a bit more. But at every stage — at least in my experience so far —you kind of rethink what you're doing and allow it to have a bit of a life of its own and kind of run with what's working and discover it as you go."
Part of that evolution included making some edits for a new cut premiering in Toronto, snipping about six minutes that Cronenberg was sad to see go.
"The thing about Cannes is everyone is sort of rushing to get their cut in. I think we did a good job with the edit, it wasn't like a rough edit, but we didn't have the time to sort of step away from it and then come back to it with fresh eyes. And when we did we thought there were some structural problems in the second half," he says.
"So we took out some scenes that I really like and hopefully they'll be on the DVD because I liked them in and of themselves, but because of where they were in the film they were causing some problems.
"I think it's a little more streamlined, in a good way, at this point."
"Antiviral" screens at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 10 and 12.