DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Anti-Christ

Saturday, 1 August 2009


Antichrist (2009) dir. Lars Von Trier
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe


By Blair Stewart

Note from the Editor: Antichrist doesn't open in North America until the October, but for international readers who have seen it, or want to see it, here's some thoughts. My own review will be forthcoming once it's available over here:

I would like to remove the Lars Von Trier part from "Antichrist", to separate not the filmmaker from the act, but the filmmaker's act. While reading the negative reviews from Cannes my sense of the outrage caused by the film wasn't all due to its ferocious violence, but to the troublesome man behind the curtain. Lars has pissed off many people since he arrived in film, myself included with his claim that he half-assed the creation of this film due to depression. Then again Ridley Scott and Kubrick could be bastards as well and they made "Alien" and "The Shining" after all. A good horror film is still a good horror film, that fact is unshakeable.

In crisp black-and-white He (Willem Dafoe) and She(Charlotte Gainsbourg) fornicate in slow-motion as their baby in sharp detail climbs out the window and falls to its death in the snow. She suffers a breakdown as a result, and He as a psychotherapist packs her out of hospital to their Eden, a cabin in the woods, to recover. His idea is She needs to get off medication immediately and face her fears of the woods which will help the recovery process somehow. Once She's out of the mental ward He grills her with 'therapeutic' questions, mental torture before the physical torture is broached between them. The sex that takes place here is very graphic, the violence that will occur more so. As human nature succumbs to base desires in the woods so too does Nature itself with the couple under seige from acorns and anthropomorphic wood creatures. "Antichrist" builds this tension with the presence of the overbearing forest as a bogeyman, as "The Blair Witch Project" also showed the woods is a void to get lost in.

Both Gainsbourg and Dafoe's performances veer into madness, and they do it exceptionately well. Wiliem Dafoe's career has been on auto-pilot for a bit before this, while demure Gainsbourg who won best actress at Cannes eventually becomes
a terrifying, crackling figure. Behind the camera Anthony Dod Mantle does his finest work in evoking the budding terror of their surroundings with a rippling kaleidoscopic lens effect causing the background to breathe.

As the director, Lars is indeed one of the best in the world regardless of his likelihood as an insufferable one. The one person most due for praise afterwards might be Lars's wife. Von Trier cut his teeth in horror with "The Kingdom" in the early 90's and it appears there were certain images he had stocked away since then to unleash on the screen. After the minor "Manderlay" and "The Boss of It All", Lars has unleashed a petrol bomb in my opinion, an 'art-film fart bomb' in others. The epilogue of "Antichrist" is a beautiful sequence, and a deeply unsettling one even for jaded cinema goers, it achieves what it sets out to do.

What remains after "Antichrist" is lingering questions. Is it misogynistic? Yes, and once again Von Trier puts his actress(and womanhood)through the ringer, but in hindsight He(Dafoe) becomes much more unsypathetic with the repression of Himself.
A wonky reveal about the dead child late in the film puts some of Her behaviour into question, but the anarchy distracted from this plot point for some viewers. Should the NC-17 version have been banned from screens in Europe?

No, because it shares an equal pessimism with Goya's "Black Paintings" and Francis Bacon's work and I don't think those canvases should be taken down either. If "Ichi the Killer" and "Irreversible" previously passed through the gates with less fanfare, the barbarians have already invaded. Should you see it? If you like thought-provoking horror, or wanted to experience the worst first-date movie since "Blue Velvet", then yes, go right ahead. Enjoy?

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