I’m given to a form of movie selection I think of as ‘trolling’ (in the angler’s sense, not the forum/bulletin board’s sense). This is an outgrowth of the good old days when there was such a thing as “movie rentals” that occurred in chain storefronts like “Blockbuster” or “Hollywood Video”. Without wanting to wander too far away from my topic, let’s just say that these stores were a celebration of the media medium we know as “video”, and should be remembered fondly, even as the modern age has moved “video” into the home and made it push-button-simple.
In those days you could literally reach out pick something more or less at the whim of the currents of water and wind, and end up with lunch. Eh…
Antichrist is a 2009 film directed by Lars von Trier. After this sentence, shit will get spoiler-y.
…What the actual fuck? I can’t tell anyone how I plucked this out of the ethereal endlessness that is the Netflix online library. Probably it appeared in the “if you liked this, then how about these?” blurb.
I love psychological horror, supernatural horror, and once in a while I’ll even go in for slasher horror. On the surface, this one looks like supernatural horror, and if you take a close look at the movie box cover, you might infer a little sex to boot. So, sexy supernatural horror. Umm…
That’s enough to reel me in, usually, but on the cover it looks like another horror re-make, re-hash, recycled theme. So I think what grabbed me was that Willem Dafoe was the leading man. Willem Dafoe got some audience love when Boondock Saints came out of nowhere as a sleeper hit. He showed up later as the original Norman Osborn / Green Goblin from the Spider-Man (2002) film (not to be confused with the Amazing Spider-Man universe, which is arguably a different thing altogether). His filmography as an actor is long, and he’s done many things.
Willem Dafoe does some weird films.
Antichrist is no exception.
The film is divided into four acts with a prologue and an epilogue. It’s an artsy-film, and the dedication at the end is revealing: …to the memory of Andrei Tarkovsky, who is known for his long takes, weird pans, and floating oddments all in the interest of expressing supernatural influence.
Antichrist won 19 awards at various international film festivals, including a best actress for Charlotte Gainsbourg at the more widely-known Cannes Film Festival, and two chainsaws from Fangoria (again for Charlotte, and for best limited-release/direct-to-video). Charlottte won quite a few more. Dafoe gained only one: a Bodil for Best Actor.
Anyway, there’s the pedigree, here’s the review:
This film is artsy-strange. There are only three cast members, and one of them is dead, shown as living only in flashbacks. The main characters are credited as “He” and “She”. There are long takes, which feel awkward in a horror film, they make the pace veritable molasses. I had to watch in two sittings, due to the nature of my available entertainment time. Once it really got underway I decided I was actually watching a psychological horror, not a supernatural horror, and I was okay with that: I really do like a good mindfuck. By the time act three was underway, I realized Lars and company were really messing with me.
Our main characters endure a tragedy that hits close to home for me: their toddler commits accidental suicide by falling from a high window (maybe 3rd story?), while the parents are… otherwise occupied. When I say close to home, I mean only that I share the elemental paranoia that goes along with parenting and always doubting the general safety of your child at any time, anywhere.
When the hospital proves ineffective for treating ‘She’ (Gainsbourg), ‘He’ (Dafoe) takes her to a retreat at their (not really well-explained) mountain cabin for a more personal psychological treatment (“He” is a psychologist or psychiatrist, I’m not clear on which. Drugs don’t feature heavily, but receive their due mention).
And, spiral down into madness from there.
What I like about it is that the lines between psychological instability, and actual supernatural horror remain blurry until late in the film. You carry along expecting that ‘She’ is really unstable and actually a threat to herself and her husband because she’s not coping with the loss of her son.
What you come to realize is that She has developed a connection with a panoply of historical crimes against women based on the inference that women are evil. If you’ve made any real studies of history in your life, you’ll accept that the Pandora’s Box / Fruit-of-the-Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Sin theme is well-exploited in modern cultures, and we all somehow know that women are evil and treat them accordingly (which is a painful, simpleton’s expression of who knows what kind of fucked up pathology within our species, is rather unrealistic, and…and… I don’t even know what. Get your shit together, world, and make better decisions).
But it’s still kind of fun to balance our modern knowledge of the human condition against the long-running “ancient wisdom” (cough, cough), and explore in fiction.
By the actual end of the film, the supernatural element has made its presence felt, though not particularly overtly. You can still blame ‘She’ for everything that happens, and believe me, ‘She’ will surprise you.
What I didn’t like about the film was the pace. It had a few yawn moments that made it easy for me to look to other things, and in doing I may have missed out on some of the particulars that explain the cosmology or mythology of ‘She’s’ psychosis (key note: She has abandoned her thesis with a working title of “Gynocide”, which is rather telling, isn’t it?). The artful aire seems to compete a bit with the nature of the story itself.
Even having said that, I rather like von Trier’s disruptive sequencing, and I think the praise-worthy elements of cinematography are deserving of what they earned from film professionals more developed than me. I expect his (von Trier’s) weird vision would be well-used on any horror script I’d have written and I’d be happy to have him on board.
I gave the film 3 of 5 stars, which is enough to say, “I liked it.”
Post-script: This film is in no way intended for children, or for anyone who should not have access to sexually explicit material, and this review should not be construed as a recommendation for such. If you don’t want to see Dafoe’s penis or Gainsbourg’s mons, don’t watch this film. Also, blood-ejaculation. Genital mutilation. But not Hostel-grade gore.
And by way of a post-post-script: I’m interested (mildly) to know that Charlotte Gainsbourg is a veteran of von Trier films, and has worked alongside Dafoe in Nymphomaniac: Vol.II, where she similarly shared the screen with Stellan Skarsgård.
Strangely, the next film in the queue is Odd Thomas, which also features Willem Dafoe. More importantly, it is a treatment of a supernatural horror a la Dungeons & Dragons fame: the bodak.