Antichrist Review: Arthouse Minus The Point
Depression can be a terrible thing, but there are ways out.
Some people join self-help groups. Others drag themselves out of the emotional mire by listening to happy hardcore remixes of Alphabeat or take up a new hobby, like knitting sweaters to raise funds for the local puppy sanctuary.
Lars Von Trier, on the other hand, simply closed his eyes, click-clicked his imaginative blood-red heels and conjured up a 90 minute baffle-athon that gives The Blair Witch Project a run for its money in the ‘FUBAR-ed woodland jaunt’ stakes.
Seriously, who needs prozac, hot chocolate and cookies when you can have hardcore porn, clitoral mutilation and foxes seemingly possessed by Brian Blessed?
Von Trier’s latest exploration into humanity’s darker underbelly follows a grieving couple as they attempt to come to terms with the death of their toddler. The mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is grief-stricken due to the fact that the couple were too busy with their rampant, primal humping to notice their child hop, skip and jump straight out of the fourth storey window.
The therapist father (Willem Dafoe) decides in his predictably analytical way that the best cure for depression and grief is the good old-fashioned ‘confronting your fears’ medicine.
Unfortunately for her (and the audience) she doesn’t suffer from pogonophobia or coprophobia. Nope, she’s unsettled by the couple’s remote cabin in the woods, ‘Eden’, where something disconcerting yet untold happened the previous summer.
Cue spooky music.
When crafted right, arthouse films can be thought-provoking, affecting and cerebral. That isn’t to say you need a central reveal or sledgehammer subtle metaphor to drive the ‘artistic vision’ home; just, no matter the obliqueness of the point, a little consistency.
Lars Von Trier recently commented that the script and filming were ‘produced with less than half of his physical and intellectual ability’, and as that admission unfortunately attests, Antichrist lacks any kind of point or coherence.
Sure, you can aim for a tone that’s confrontational if it’s intended to challenge the audience, but excessive, pointless turns of event only lead to a picture that is too aimless and fragmented to do anything other than leave you bewildered.
The ‘horror’, as it is, devolves from a genuine sense of foreboding and unsettling imagery into the far less interesting territory of vagina slicing and penis crushing.
While its intention may not be to horrify through gorn (gore porn) or graphic violence alone, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what he meant to evoke or confront with such leg-crossing imagery.
To its credit, the cinematography is stunning. From the bookend ‘Stella Artois’ vignettes full of slow-mo black and white imagery and spine-tingling arias, to the ethereally twisted fairytale woodland sequences, there are fleeting moments that remind you there’s a true artist hiding underneath all the neuroses and misanthropy.
Von Trier is never going to be a director you can pigeonhole into tidy little genre boxes and so it’s no surprise that Antichrist is a film you’re subjected to rather than a viewer to, which is probably the whole point. With Dancer in the Dark and Dogville, he displayed his ability to convey metaphor and message set at a level that would provoke and stimulate.
Yet never has his abstractness seemed so disconnected or, ultimately, so futile.