Antichrist is in a league of its own, as I can’t recall a film that was as disturbing, shocking, and utterly chilling, yet so beautiful, powerful, and riveting all at the same time. It’s a film that once started, many will not finish, and out of those who do, few will wish to visit again; however, it’s also a film that’s so well put together, it’s impossible not to recommend, albeit, with proper warnings.
The film stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a grieving husband and wife who lose their son, who is a toddler, in the prologue to the story. The two have no names, and are labeled as He and She in the credits, as their names are not important, as it’s their story and representation of the genders in general that they’re here for. The film is broken up into chapters, with the first being grief, which shows us the effect that the death of their son has taken on the couple. The husband, a psychiatrist who tends to believe he always knows what’s best, consistently visits his wife at a hospital she was checked in to due to her depression; however, soon has her released into his custody, thinking he can do a better job treating her than the other doctors.
Once the two are home, He quickly takes on the role of her therapist, going so far as to refuse sex with her, as she’d just be using it as a distraction from the pain and grief that he believes she needs to feel, and work through in order to move forward. He then begins working on a pyramid of her fears, thinking that if he can find out what it is she’s most afraid of, that she can face these fears, and this process will also help her overcome her current state of mind. After some time passes, it comes to light that the place she fears most are the woods around their cabin, ‘Eden’. She explains that it began last summer when she took their son out their so she could work on her thesis, which focused on genocide, in peace.
Believing that her facing these fears is exactly what she needs, He packs their bags and they’re soon on their way to their cabin in the woods. Upon arrival, things start to take a turn for the worse, and He soon discovers that not everything his wife has told him or led him to believe thus far has been true, and that both of them will soon discover that both the nature around them, and also within is filled with a darkness that needs to be stopped before it’s too late.
I find putting a description of this film into words to be rather hard, as the emotion, and pure pull that this film has is almost entirely done through its visuals and pacing. Written and directed by Lars von Trier (Dogville), Antichrist is superbly shot, and it’s through this that the story moves forward, and the eerie vibe and tone of the film are set. Not once did von Trier rely on superficial shocks, or any sort of cliché in order to tell his story, and while some of the imagery and shots used in the film can easily be dubbed repulsive and receive no argument from even the films biggest supporter, they help put the viewer exactly where von Trier wants them and it’s hard to say if the film would work as well without them. Along with Trier, equal kudos must be given to Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle, and Supervising Sound Editor Kristian Eidnes Anderson, who both bring this film up to the next level with their flawless work. It must be said that Anderson’s sound additions are one of the main reasons this film will get under your skin, and why certain shots are that much more intense.
Huge credit must also be given to Dafoe and Gainsbourg, who both take it to another level in this film. The two play off one another perfectly, and help draw the viewer into the characters lives and situation. They make everything believable, which is one of the big reasons why Antichrist is so compelling.
On the warning side, people who are easily offended should obviously steer clear of this one, as well as those who can’t take seeing animal cruelty. While no animals were actually harmed in the making of this film, and the cruelty towards animals is just showing nature as it is, and not any sort of torturous man vs. animal scenes, it’s incredibly hard to watch regardless of if you can stomach it or not. There are also a few scenes of the sexual nature that aren’t done so to arouse, and if anything, will do the exact opposite.
While some may believe this to be a drama, others would easily file it under horror, simply due to the graphic nature of some of the scenes. While I can understand both, I honestly can’t say where I’d put it myself, as the story is much deeper than almost anything to be found in the horror genre; however, I’d really have to think hard to pinpoint a film that filled me with the uneasy feeling, and sense of dread that Antichrist did.
The audio is your standard 5.1 Dolby Digital, and it comes through extremely well, filling in both the low, ominous rumblings scattered throughout the film, as well as the dialogue extremely well. The picture, found in 16×9 2.35 LB looks fantastic, as the transfer was very well done. The film has its share of bright moments, but it’s the darkness, and the mood lighting that really help the film shine, and they come out looking very good on the DVD version.
Feature Commentary with Director Lars von Trier and Journalist Murray Smith – Fans who want a more in depth insight of what von Trier was aiming to do with this film will need to look no further than this extra.
The Antichrist Test – This feature runs at six and a half minutes, and shows how they got certain shots for the film. They used stand-ins during this time for the actors, though it’s quite interesting to see how they used a chaotic effect during those scenes in the film, having the camera shake more, and giving an unsettling feeling to the viewer, without them fully realizing what might be causing it.
Antichrist: Chaos Reigns at the Cannes Film Festival 2009 – This feature is 7 minutes in length, and while it’s mainly fluff, it’s also interesting to see just how much goes into a day at Cannes for the films involved there.
Confessions about Anxiety – Director Lars von Trier delves into his own experience with anxiety attacks in this five minute featurette, and how he used that personal knowledge to help educate the visual effects people as to how exactly he wanted the shots portrayed.
Eden: Production Diary – This is another five minute featurette, and it shows just how much work went into finding the perfect location for the cabin. One of the main requirements was having an oak tree around, yet that proved to be more problematic than they thought. Eventually, they settled on the perfect site, and built the lower half of the oak tree themselves, rendering the upper half with CGI later when needed.
The Sound and Music of Antichrist – This was probably my favourite featurette, as the music really sets the tone for the film. What was most interesting was how the uneasy sounds that are found throughout the film, and make the viewer uncomfortable are actually all natural sounds. The low, ominous rumble that constantly shows up when trouble is brewing happens to be Sound Director Kristian Eidnes Anderson blowing on grass, then rendering the sound into a more eerie one. Also, the scene where He takes She back to the cabin while they’re on the train, the sounds are actually from a microphone that Anderson swallowed. He didn’t even have to edit anything, as the sounds of his blood coursing, and his breathing were eerie enough as is. It’s actually quite brilliant to see how it all came together, as well as how they put together the orchestrated song used in the prologue. If you’re to check out any extra, I’d highly recommend this one, which is roughly thirteen minutes in length.
The Three Beggars – The Animals of Antichrist – This featurette will help animal lovers rest easy, as it shows that the ravens, deer, and fox in the film were all specially trained, never harmed, and expertly taken care of throughout the production. The baby deer was also fake, as real as it may have looked, and was created (the ‘making of’ shown in a later featurette) and just tacked onto the backside of the trained deer.
The Make-Up Effects and Props of Antichrist – This featurette is a little over eight minutes in length, and it shows how the make-up/prop department came up with the leg torture device, the dead baby deer, He and She’s son, as well as the highly talked about castration scene prop.
The Evil of Women – This runs just under eight minutes, and it shows how they had to do a lot of research into finding the right types of pictures, books, pages and knowledge in general about the inherent evil of women that has been studied in the past.
The Visual Style of Antichrist – This one runs at just over 15 minutes, and mainly talks with Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle. It’s also quite interesting, as the shots are really what helped make this movie so compelling, yet at the same time, sometimes seeing just how everything was done takes a bit away from it all. Regardless, it’s well put together, and it’s here if you want to know more about this beautifully shot film.
Cast Interviews – The features come to a close with interviews with stars Gainsbourg and Dafoe. Both are quite insightful, and it’s rather funny to hear Dafoe explain that he just happened to get in touch with von Trier at the right time, and his getting the part was a “beautiful accident.”
As I stated above, Antichrist is not for everyone, and no matter how much praise one throws upon it, that will not change. The film never tries to disguise itself as something it’s not, and it never holds back, and these reasons, along with a powerful score and visual style, are why it all just works. If you believe you can stomach some of the more visually graphic scenes, and you are open to controversial takes on topics, Antichrist is a film that you really must see once, with whether or not you wish to journey back to Eden a second time left in your hands.
Zentropa Entertainments23 Aps Present Antichrist. Directed by: Lars von Trier. Starring: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Running time: 108 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: November, 9, 2010.
Tags: Willem Dafoe