Last weekend, I had the chance to see Lar's von Trier's latest film, Antichrist, at the IFC Center in New York City. I was very lucky since the film has had a very limited release since its first viewings at Cannes. There was only one theater playing it in New York and I was able to catch it. For this review, I will try very hard not to spoil anything past the first five minutes of the film which provides the basis of the plot.
Plot: The film is centered on an unnamed couple (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe) mourning the loss of their infant who dies in the beginning of the film. Divided into a prologue, four chapters, and an epilogue, the film opens with the couple having sex while their child opens the safety gate and climbs out of the window. This results in Charlotte Gainsbourg's character to blame herself and take responsibility for the death of the child. Trying to relieve his wife of her depression, Willem Dafoe's character (a therapist) takes his wife deep into the woods to their cabin named Eden.
My thoughts: The film begins with one of the most beautifully filmed scenes I have ever seen. The scene where the couple makes love as the child climbs out the window is filmed in black and white, entirely in slow motion, and viewed with Handel's "Lascia ch'io pianga" aria in the background. In addition, first five minutes serve as an introduction to the way the movie plays out until the end. The initial impression is that the film is gorgeous, filmmaking at its finest, and a work of art. Films this well made are hard to come by. However, the movie is very sexual and often, explicitly so. The sex in this film, quite honestly, isn't sexy and isn't meant to be. It's not what you find in the average teenage horror film. The prologue of the film contains probably the purest form of sex. It is carefree, real, and therefore, results in the death of a child. Everything else is uncomfortable for the viewer and the characters from here on. However, this uncomfort is the overall feeling that the viewer will have throughout the film. The horror is primarily psychological. There is a brooding sense of uneasiness that something is very wrong with Eden but it is never cheesy or predictable. There are shocking images but it seems von Trier worked very hard to build on this uneasy feeling more than anything.
Von Trier continues to build the tension until it explodes into the final chapter. Suddenly, the film becomes shockingly violent, far more violent than any Saw or Hostel and unlike these films, it is a flat out assault on the senses. It is an unexpected shift of tones and just as the sex is explicit, so is the violence.
The theme of depression (allegedly inspired by von Trier's own depression) brings out an amazing performance by Gainsbourg that will truly move the viewer. She is convincing as a mother mourning the loss of her child. Dafoe is excellent as the voice of reason trying to guide his wife. The relationship seems very real throughout making the character's connection extraordinarily believable.
Antichrist has. However, there is much more to the film than violence and sex. When the shock and queasiness subside, there is a lot to think about in the film and may require multiple viewings to fully understand. Should you see the film? Well, it depends what you're looking for in the film. If you're going primarily for the shock value that results in the release of a new Saw every Halloween, DO NOT see this film. It is not the typical slasher or torture film. The violence truly begins 80 minutes into the film and there are no cheap scares to be found here. The horror is in the lingering feeling of dread that increases with each chapter. If you understand the type of film this is, see it. It's the type of film that will keep you up at night, not because you are scared, but because you can't stop thinking about what it all means.
Well that's it for my first review! I hope you enjoyed it.