If there was ever a cinema "Antichrist", a vitriolic force opposed to the American Christian paradigm, it would be Lars Von Trier. Often despised by many patriotic film critics for his scathing anti-American sentiments (in clear display for movies like Dogville) Von Trier's dabbling into horror was a prophecy come true, as such a feral mind simply had to tackle this most cathartic of genres after making years of emotionally disturbing allegories.
In Antichrist, the director tells what is possibly his rawest, most personal film to date-it just so happens it involves infanticide, genital mutilation and spousal murder. The film begins with the unfortunate death of a married couple's toddler-aged son Nick. The fact that the husband and wife (unnamed in the film) were making love during his death does profound emotional damage to the couple's sex life, their happiness, and their marital trust. Through four chapters, the story explores the aftermath of death: grief, pain, despair, though the film eventually evolves into a metaphorical story of murder.
"He" as Willem Dafoe's character is named, is a therapist and decides to treat his grieving wife with psychotherapy. Taking her to a cabin in the woods, (not so subtly name "Eden") he uncovers his wife's secret fears, which are related to nature. As the sessions continue, she becomes increasingly erratic, culminating in "She" writing a thesis on the evil nature of women. She pressures him into abusive sex and eventually knocks him unconscious, leading to two disturbing scenes of mutilation; first done unto him, and then unto herself. The film culminates with a character-assassinating revelation regarding She, which could be a plot revelation or an imagined scenario, speaking to the parental guilt flowing in this movie like droplets of crimson blood. The ending to the film is surreal and involves brutality and mass gender conspiracy, which will undoubtedly provoke feminists, and the religiously inclined, who will pick up on the overtones of the biblical account of Adam and Eve.
Speaking of blood, rarely has blood looked so magical. Whereas Lars' previous films have devalued fancy sets and epic, cinematic camera angles, Antichrist packs a punch when it comes to filming the cruelty of man. He achieves a lyrical, Kubrickian quality to his on-screen violence, and as always this speaks volumes regarding Von Trier's own personal demons. The film maker's well-publicized bouts of anxiety, and mistrust translate perfectly to a grieving family's guilt-ridden complex, and in the final act, we see precisely where such mental illness leads-to the depths of despair, the end of life, and the bludgeoning of happiness. To grieve, to blame, is madness, or so suggests the film maker, shortly before setting the whole story on fire. (Literally and figuratively)
In terms of horror film making techniques, Lars proves himself a behind-the-camera technician as well as an abstract master of the screenplay. His brilliant use of operatic music (i.e. "Lascia ch'io pianga") captivates the audience, unsettling them for two hours of demonic emotions. He and Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography is ultra-realistic, even while avoiding the "found footage" cliches that permeate student-made horror flicks today-probably because of effective use of subtle and non-visible "jump- cut editing".
He succeeds in creating not a world of dark reality, but a nightmarish and hypnotic sleep prison, using both hand held camera shots, motion control imagery and illustrative imagery that focus on anxiety. Lars Von Trier's greatest weaknesses in the minds of his critics are his greatest achievements for his fans; he makes creates realism to a fault (as you will see with explicit sex scenes, and gruesome torture porn-style violence), all the while drifting from reality to film elements of the bizarre, the damning, and the absurd.
His mixing of arousing sexual images with ugly, realistic carnage is assaulting to the viewer, while his biblical allusions are primal and felt, even without being logically understood.
Perhaps it is ironic that Lars Von Trier chose the first biblical tale, one concerning Good and Evil, in order to make his first true horror film. In horror what we observe is a polarized version of society; a victim and a monster; a good person and a bad person. The violence is not just the entitlement of Evil-it is the means to survive, even for good people who want to live in an unfair world.
In many ways, Antichrist is a meditative dichotomy; of good and evil, logic and emotion, male and female perspectives, human intelligence and the raw power of nature. While one could conclude that Antichrist is about the evil of humanity, this is a script that willfully provokes emotion and begs a personal interpretation from the viewer.
In the horror genre, we must accept what is "evil" as the antagonist or the anti-hero. In Antichrist, Lars Von Trier suggests that Nature is Satan's Church, that evil is everywhere, and that Woman (or Eve) was the ultimate downfall of Adam and mankind. It's the sort of stuff that a therapist, or a client in therapy, would find fascinating as a glimpse into one's own suppressed mind. For the traditional horror fan, however, Antichrist may be too cerebral, and too depressive, to entertain. Nevertheless, this uncompromising director succeeds in creating yet another film travesty that demands reaction.
This is the kind of film where I can tell that the director has a lot to say. Lars Von Trier has a way of communicating themes that's very unconventional. He uses graphic and explicit content in a way that immerses the audience, but doesn't sacrifice the integrity of the narrative. This film also has a visual grace about it that's oddly beautiful even though what he's showing us is horrific and disturbing. The prologue for this film is one of the most impressively shot sequences I've ever seen.
Another very impressive aspect of the film was the performances. There's only two to speak of, but they totally blew me away. Wilem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are acting titans. They took so many risks and were so vulnerable, especially Gainsbourg. She put herself out there in a way I haven't seen in a long time, and I think that helped me to track with her when she went to those dark places in the last act.
This film was disturbing, ambitious, nasty, chaotic, compelling, dark, nightmarish, and, overall, extremely brilliant. One of the most haunting and original films I've ever seen!
That was one of the first reviews I have ever written on Rotten Tomatoes. I rated it a 0.5/5 stars. When I typed that review, I was fairly new to the world of art house cinema, scrolling through Netflix's selection of films I had never heard of to find something new and different. After viewing "Antichrist," I felt sick. I just couldn't understand why the film needed to be so gruesome. Upon reexamining the film recently (several years and a greater knowledge regarding artistic cinema later), I realized that I didn't fully understand the film the first time. Having seen it with fresh eyes, Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" is a flawless work of artistic brilliance. It's rich in symbolism, features a disturbing performance from Charlotte Gainsbourg, and the cinematography is stunning. It may be hard to stomach, but "Antichrist" is a masterpiece and I hate it.