Considering it’s only been a few days since it’s public premiere at Cannes, one could say that volumes have already been written about Lars Von Trier’s ANTICHRIST. Volumes containing everything from angry disgust, accusations of ego-trippin and degradation of women to columns of praise, singling out the film as the most important feature at this year’s festival. Symptomatic for most is the fact that people can’t seem to wholly digest the film. The ones who praise it point out that they simultaneously feel obliged to hate the film, and people who aim at pulling it apart keep mentioning that they’ll never forget it. Needless to say this is a film that takes it’s toll once you lean back and let the darkness consume you.
ANTICHRIST has been marketed as a horror-film, but I’m not sure it is. Basically, like everyone else apparently, I’m not sure about anything in this film. I’m not even sure I like it. But then again, whenever a film makes an impression this lasting and this deep, I have to love it. So what is it? It’s an artfilm for one – a psychological human horror that engages the furthest reaches of human behavior, belief and emotion. A combination of personal therapy for it’s deranged creator and violent confrontation for it’s audience. It’s a film that keeps it simple story-wise, but carries a heavy load of symbolic undercurrent and gradually builds to a blatant and utterly disturbing finale. As a horror fan you might be drawn to the occult references to Wicca-mythology, the demonic imagery and the heavy bloodshed in the final real. As a film lover in general I was tantalized by the sheer beauty of the images – cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle flexing his most impressive aesthetics fresh of Oscar-stardom – and intrigued by the lasting impression the film has on me.
Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg dominate every single frame as a couple destroyed by the accidental death of their baby-boy (the cynicism of Von Trier is presented in the opening slow-motion montage that sees the boy falling beautifully to his death as his parents are having passionate sex in the next room). Dafoe, a therapist, takes on a cloak of clinical distance and concentrates his energy on treating his emotionally distraught wife. They hike to a cabin called Eden deep in the woods and start a series of therapeutic exercises that gradually dive deeper into the reaches of human grief and despair. Before long personal demons start to materialize and the forest itself seems to come alive.
To give away more of the, basically simple, plot would be a shame, but plot is really not that important here. What Von Trier gives us instead is a thing almost never seen in horror-oriented cinema: A pure cinematic experience. A film more focused on putting sight and sound together to form an engaging whole, a film with balls as heavy as Satan himself and a film that carries that one thing most horror films are without – emotional impact. You won’t pay too much attention to the basic plotline, you’ll be too engaged in the terrifying visuals, the subconscious tinglings of audio and the pure originality of most things on display. If it gets you, ANTICHRIST is a film that punches you right in the gut, keeps it’s fist in there and rips out your very being once you’re through. That’s basically the easiest way for me to describe it. If it doesn’t get you – and god be with you if you leave this one untouched – then you’ll probably be inclined to recite other critics and call it everything from chauvinistic, ego-centric and downright disgusting.
Whatever state you might be in after watching, this is a film unlike anything out today – an overwhelmingly beautiful film about death, grief and the absurd reality of human emotion. ANTICHRIST pays tribute to August Strindberg and Andrei Tarkovsky, it taps into Von Triers streak of pulling exceptional performances from his leads, it packs the violent punch of Kim Ki-Duks The Isle or anything Karim Hussain can put on film and it gently touches horror-conventions like the scary forest and tales of witchcraft, while at the same time totally destroying these conventions. The only recent film that I can even begin to compare is Vinyan, because it taps into the same mood and tempo, but even Fabrice Du Welz’ similar tale of grief is in a way completely removed from Von Trier’s cynicism, hyper-aesthetics and violent conclusion. ANTICHRIST is basically a film I’d recommend to anyone. Even if you don’t like it you’ll probably still be baffled and unable to wash the images from your mind. Just pray to the dark one that it reaches your town uncut.
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