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Worth A Look: 24.24%
Just Average: 6.06%
Pretty Crappy: 30.3%
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4 reviews, 9 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"a.k.a. "Uncle Lars' Cabin"
2 stars

Pretentious, deranged and repellent in equal measure, “Antichrist” is the kind of film that could only be made by a world-class filmmaker who has taken complete leave of their senses or by a deranged lunatic who managed to hold it together long enough get someone to give them the necessary money and resources to go out and make something and it says a lot about Danish auteur provocateur Lars von Tier that he has been making films for over a quarter-century and I am still not sure which category he falls under. On the one hand, it contains moments of extraordinary cinematic beauty, it features a pair of memorably intense performances from its lead actors and it is, if nothing else, a singular and uncompromised vision from a singular and uncompromising visionary. On the other hand, the film as a whole is a turgid, muddled and deeply unpleasant shotgun marriage between an exceptionally pretentious psychosexual art house extravaganza and an exceptionally grotesque horror film that will bore viewers for its first 80 minutes and have them barfing for the last 20 with grisly images that almost defy description. The one thing that I am sure of is that if this film had been presented by almost any other filmmaker in the world other than von Trier, the man behind such controversial and passionately debated works as “Breaking the Waves,” “Dancer in the Dark” and “Dogville,” it would not be arriving in town on the wave of controversy that it has been riding since making its tumultuous debut at Cannes earlier this year--it would instead be relegated to appearances at second-tier underground film festivals populated by people who are still under the impression that the mere presence of graphic nudity and excessive violence alone is enough to make a film worthy of being considered “trangressive” instead of being regarded as “desperate for attention.”

Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg star as a married couple, identified in the credits only as “He” and “She” (which should be an early warning to some viewers about what they are in for), and in a lack-and-white prologue that is admittedly one of the most striking and powerful stretches of cinematic craft in recent memory, the two graphically make love (complete with porno-grade inserts presumably involving stunt genitals) one cold and snowy night in their high-rise apartment. So engrossed are they in their exertions that they fail to notice that their young son has managed to spring the lock on his crib and is heading towards the open window that has garnered his attention. Slowly and methodically and with grand opera wailing away in the background for an added touch of subtlety, the scene shifts between the couple in bed and the child heading for the ledge (interspersed with the occasional shot of a clothes dryer humming away) until the brief and terrible moment when the boy silently slips over the edge and plummets to the snowy sidewalk far below.

She is, of course, inconsolable and even after weeks of treatment and medication, is still pretty much a mess. He, on the other hand, is a therapist and arrogantly decides that only he can properly treat her. Convinced that confronting her greatest fears is the only way to allow her to fully confront her feelings of guilt regarding the accident, Since nature is right up at the top of the things she is terrified of (“Nature is Satan’s church”), He decides that the best thing for them to do is go to their isolated cabin in the woods (named Eden, naturally) and continue the treatment there. While he does make progress in some respects, his smug and borderline cruel approach--treating her solely as an anonymous patient and not as a grieving wife in need of support and tenderness from her husband--winds up driving her further around the bend and she begins speaking only in metaphors derived from her area of expertise, namely the witch hunts and other areas in which women have been subjected to unthinkable cruelties by men throughout history. As time goes on, things grow darker and weirder and even the relentlessly pragmatic He begins to experience some strange things in the woods. He also stumbles upon evidence that suggests that She had been doing cruel things to their child without him even noticing. However, before He can confront her with this, She decides to shift the metaphysical cruelty into the purely physical through a final act containing brutality so beyond the pale--including his-and-her genital mutilations in close-up detail--that it seems like a cross between the opening scenes of “Irreversible” and the final chutes at your local stockyard.

I will admit that in the past, I have been somewhat on the fence regarding von Trier’s artistic output--while I have admired such past efforts as “The Kingdom,” “Breaking the Waves” and “Dancer in the Dark,” I have found other works like “Dogville” and “Manderlay” to be more or less unendurable. However, in all of those films, I have at least felt comfortable that I knew and understood the messages that he was trying to convey and the methods that he was utilizing to convey them. In the case of “Antichrist,” I not only never felt that I knew for a second what points he was trying to make, I am not convinced that he had any idea of what he was trying to say either. Granted, if I wanted to, I could easily take any of the raw, undigested chunks of thematic material on display and write a long and profound essay about how the film serves as von Trier’s exploration of the failures of organized religion coming from a famously lapsed Catholic or the failures of psychotherapy coming from someone who famously went through a period of depression before beginning this project, a denunciation of the cruel and misogynistic behavior that women have been subjected to throughout the centuries or as a commentary of the cruel and misogynistic behavior that the women cast in his films have been subjected to over the years--many other critics have done just that since the film first played at Cannes and many of them have been quite interesting both in what they say about the movie as well as what they say about the writers themselves.

That said, I don’t think I could write something along those lines because I don’t think for an instant that von Trier has anything at all to say about those subjects, or anything else for that matter. Instead, it seems as if he has just taken a bunch of hot-button issues that he knows will cause viewers to start looking for a message, even where one doesn’t exist, jammed them into his now standard structure that consists of 75% emotional brutality followed by 25% physical and served them to audiences in such a relentlessly grim and straight-faced manner that he is practically daring viewers not to laugh even when it threatens to veer into outright insanity. (Oddly enough, it might have been a little more effective if it had been a little funnier here and there.) Yes, I understand that he is working on a metaphorical level here but he has failed to figure out a way to actually engage viewers as he did with the likes of “Breaking the Waves” and “Dancer in the Dark,” works that were just as arch and metaphorically derived but which also contained emotional content that kept them from simply becoming academic exercises. This time around, however, the results are so boring and bloodless that most viewers will simply find themselves marking time for the first 80 minutes while waiting for the much-publicized carnage of the final 20.

As badly as “Antichrist” fails as a metaphysical drama, it flops just as hard when looked upon as a horror film, which is how it is being billed in some places. For starters, instead of figuring out a way of cleverly blending the ingredients of the horror genre with those of a typically intense and highly metaphorical art-house drama, von Trier seems to think that simply bringing the two together is an audacious enough move--apparently Netflix never got around to sending him the likes of “Persona.” As for the bloodshed itself, it is extreme and grotesque enough to inspire an immediate visceral reaction from most viewers but once the immediate shock wears off, none of it makes any further impact because the characters being brutalized by each other are such complete ciphers that what happens of them is of not particular interest or consequence to viewers, most of whom will presumably be more interested in how the effects guys pulled (or lopped, in one extreme case) everything off. It is in this regard that von Trier demonstrates perhaps his greatest disconnect with his audience. Clearly he is intending to shock them with his over-the-top goriness of the final scenes but the art-house audience (and face it, they are the only people likely to seek this particular film out) have already been inundated with so many films over the years mixing artiness and extreme violence that it is more difficult than ever to get a rise out of them. In the case of “Antichrist,” this is even more pronounced because it is unlikely that anyone buying a ticket for it will do so unawares of the grisliness of the final reel--my guess is that most of those people will be attending not because they have any interest in what von Trier might be saying but to prove to themselves and their pals that they are tough enough to handle it. In other words, “Antichrist” is essentially the art-house version of “Hostel” and say what you will about the latter, it at least had a certain purity of motive that is nowhere to be seen here.

Although “Antichrist” is pretty much a mess from start to finish, it does contain a few points of interest. The performances from Dafoe and Gainbourg (the latter won the Best Actress award at Cannes) are strong and brave and convincing, especially when you consider that they are being asked to do things that most actors would cheerfully and blamelessly run away from like the plague. (That said, I still think that many of the reviews praising Gainsbourg are reacting more to what she is asked to do rather than how she actually does them--my guess is that if von Trier had hired Britney Spears and she did the same things, they would be celebrating her boldness and bravery instead.), the cinematography from longtime collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle is stunning throughout--although the end result may be an unwatchable film, it is never an unwatchable film from a visual standpoint) and every once in a while, von Trier includes a bit that is so strange and audacious (such as the aforementioned opening and a bizarre interlude between Dafoe and a fox in the woods) that it reminds you of what he is capable of when all of his cylinders are firing. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between and in the end, “Antichrist” is one of those films in which the discussions and arguments that are sure to erupt among audiences once the lights come up are going to be far more passionate, coherent and interesting than anything seen on the screen.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18732&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/23/09 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2009 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2009 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 New York Film Festival For more in the 2009 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/16/17 Louise Agree with Sobczynski. And not even a particularly memorable film. 2 stars
4/20/12 Marty tough to connect, as it should be for its subj matter. i like visceral, unfiltered aspect 3 stars
5/29/11 mr.mike My 1st Von Trier film, pretty much agree with orndorf. 4 stars
8/01/10 Miss Horror Beautifully filmed, but took forever to get to the shocking conclusion. Boring 2 stars
1/06/10 randy todger sick but entrancing 4 stars
11/14/09 FrankNFurter Misogynistic poo. A talking fox + penis cumming blood + clitorectomy = waste of time.Avoid! 2 stars
10/29/09 Butt A celebration of misogyny w/ full on camera self genital mutilation, exuiste cinematography 2 stars
10/29/09 matt nearly impenetrable, and too much shock for shocks sake. 3 stars
10/25/09 Man Out 6 Bucks Archetypes attempt transubstantiation in a Pantheist universe 5 stars
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  23-Oct-2009 (NR)
  DVD: 09-Nov-2010

  N/A (18)

  23-Oct-2009 (R)

Directed by
  Lars Von Trier

Written by
  Lars Von Trier

  Willem Dafoe
  Charlotte Gainsbourg

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