Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
To give this film a rating out of 5 is almost completely irrelevant. In fact, any kind of reaction is. Lars von Trier’s latest is designed to provoke a response – be it shock, adoration, self-mutilation or vomiting. It crosses the line between arthouse and arsewipe so frequently that you don’t know what to think. Is the key message that women are evil and crazy? If that’s the case, it’s been better said in a Ben Folds song.
It all starts with a friendly bit of fornicating in the shower. In slow-motion black and white, of course. Like some kind of perfume ad. As the Handel gets louder, our couple’s faces more animated, Lars cheekily cuts to their baby, crawling towards a window. Then back to a lovely shot of what can only be described as penetration. The baby looks out the window as the snow falls, teddy in hand. He leans forward. Then falls to the floor, hitting the concrete outside. They stop sexing it up. The Handel continues. And up pops a logo for American Express, or some other product.
This glib, almost satirical opening aside, we’re straight into a tale of full-on grief. He (Willem Dafoe) is a therapist, trying to help She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to cope with the loss of their son. As the couple quarrel, they confront their conflicts without being coy. She even smashes her head on the toilet – if you take anything away from this film, take this: Willem Dafoe is a crap therapist.
Eventually, they agree to retreat to a cabin in the woods, where She can face her fears away from drugs and expensive furniture. As the couple wander through the forest, things become yet more intense. “The ground is burning my feet,” she cries. “The ground isn’t burning your feet,” replies Dafoe, completely deadpan – told you he was rubbish at counseling. Then she mounts him for more sex.
Still, the nature is quite unnerving. Fantasy sequences of deserted bridges linger in the memory, as do the rolling, distorting shots of the trees; cranking up the soundtrack to unsettling levels, this movement is beautifully made and highly effective.
But then, along comes a talking fox. Who happens to be disembowelling himself. He turns to Willem Dafoe and snarls: “Chaos reigns”. Symbolic? A warning, more like. For then we get the psycho bit: for no apparent reason, She flips. Completely. Like, way beyond the cuckoo’s nest. She drills a hole in his leg, smashes his member in with a block of wood, and then performs some self-circumcision.
All the while, acorns hammer down on the roof and deers gallop about with dead babies hanging out of them. And still Charlotte wants some. It’s disturbing, yes, but also incredibly meaningless. What starts out as poignant just becomes pointless – gone is the grief of earlier, replaced by gore and graphic porn. Bash-bash, snip-snip. Is the Danish director reclaiming the horror genre? Or is Lars just having a laugh?
Two thirds of this film are well made, and quite moving. The two leads really are impressive, both putting in convincing and committed performances. In there somewhere is a touching story, hidden by a story about touching. Bits of Antichrist are engaging. The rest is just bollocks. Literally – he really does like those private parts. It’s almost a meditation on original sin. Almost. But once it starts trying to shock you, any credentials it had just get smeared in shit. Maybe that explains the Jackson Pollock-like title cards.
An intentionally provocative piece, Antichrist mainly incites indifference. Still, if evil women are your thing, you can do better elsewhere. As Ben Folds once chronicled his own experiences of female hysteria: “The bitch went nuts/She stabbed my basketball/And the speakers to my stereo…”
Irrelevant, unnecessary and horrifically arrogant, Antichrist is designed purely to whip up controversy. Not something to recommend to anyone.