I first tried to watch Antichrist over a year ago. The movie had a decent star rating on Netflix and I had heard horror fans buzzing about it so I definitely wanted to give it a shot. My boyfriend and I sat down to watch this on a Saturday evening knowing nothing of the plot details–I don’t think we even read the full description on Netflix.
The intro of the film was entirely uncomfortable for me. The scene alternates between Dafoe and Gainsbourg’s characters being intimate while their young son Nic, toddles around, eventually falling out the second-story window. The sex scene is unnecessarily graphic and actually shows penetration (although from model actors, not our stars). To add to the atmosphere, the scene is shot in black-and-white and is also set to opera music–cue the pretentious tone for the entire film.
When I saw the child fall from the window complemented by the explicit un-simulated sex act, I stopped watching. I am not a prude by any means, but I quickly discovered Antichrist is not a casual movie. I was not in the mood to watch something so complex and weighty. So the BF and I instead opted for something lighter—reruns of My Cat from Hell.
And there Antichrist remained in my Netflix queue, where for months I was constantly reminded of its haunting intro each time I perused my queue for things to watch. I finally decided to just sit down and watch it, if for no reason other than to say I had and could also then remove the darned thing from my queue. I started from the beginning, watching the same disturbing opening scene that prevented me for so long from finishing the film. But I wanted to do the movie justice by watching it all at once.
Again I was extremely bothered by the beginning. And I was actually more offended with the unnecessarily graphic sex scene than I was with the death of the child. It just seemed unnecessary. After the controversial first scene, the audience watches as the woman emotionally unfolds on screen. She is soon committed to a psychiatric hospital when after a month of no improvement, her husband–conveniently a therapist–decides to treat her at home without the aid of medication. Despite being home, the woman still is very much disturbed. Thinking a change of scenery will help, the couple retreats to their cabin isolated in the woods–like “miles away from a road” isolated–only accessible through a lengthy trek through the wilderness by foot.
What ensues is the gradual unraveling of the woman. She doesn’t seem too concerned about the loss of her child; she’s broken up, but in a very selfish way. She repeatedly makes aggressive sexual advances towards her husband. Then becomes increasingly manic, completely overwhelmed at the idea of even leaving the cabin. The man is genuine–I believe, in his efforts to comfort his wife, but the woman is truly inconsolable at this point.
The husband finally gets around to reviewing Nic’s autopsy and after seeing some peculiar findings regarding the boy’s feet, he compares the report to pictures of his son taken when his wife had previously visited the cabin to work on her thesis. As soon as he realizes that the woman has been deliberately abusing their son–purposely making her child wear his shoes on the wrong feet, causing the child’s feet to deform–the man is attacked by his wife.
I’ll stop my plot summary here and note that up until this point, there is not much horror to the film. In fact, we go approximately an hour into the film with mostly dialogue and little action. And with the exception of the funeral scene–to which there is no dialogue–we encounter no other characters in the movie besides some bizarre animal sequences. There is an extreme emphasis on symbolism and artistic effect, so much so that stylistically these devices detract from whatever message von Trier was trying to connote. Accordingly, neither the woman nor Dafoe’s character are given names.
While I am not opposed to symbolism in films, I’m not sure what the message of this was. It seemed like grief/crazy/sex/genital mutilation was the crux of this movie. These individual accentuations in Antichrist detracted for me more than anything. And I also don’t understand how the name of the film relates to the nuances of the story because there is very little (if any) religious mentionings in the movie.
Perhaps von Trier achieved what he wanted, to disturb the audience and get people talking. Heavy handed, pretentious and overly symbolic, I did’t enjoy it. I wouldn’t even consider it horror until the last third of the film. That being said, I don’t know that I wouldn’t recommend it to horror fans. Despite not liking it, I do think it worth a watch.
Pros: unique, symbolic, reflective
Cons: exploitative, heavy handed, slow-paced, polarizing
Mashup status: Reminiscent of Possession (1981), think the grieving parents in Don’t Look Now (1973) meet the sexual repression of Repulsion (1965) with the ambiguousness of many a David Lynch film.