31 Days of Hell: Antichrist

As a break from the standard horror fare, we've included Lars Von Trier's Antichrist in our series, 31 Days of Hell. 

"We've got plenty of wood."

The first entry in what would become known as writer-director Lars Von Trier’s Depression Trilogy, Antichrist is a nuclear bomb of shocking taboo imagery and transcendent transgression with uncharted depths of pain and despair.  One of the few films to legitimately shake the film world to its very foundations, eliciting incredible amounts of anger and upset over explicit sex and extreme violence, Antichrist is the work of an artist at the peak of his creative powers.  Not to mention the fact that it genuinely terrifies and disturbs on multiple levels while confidently skirting the line between art and exploitation until the two extremes become indivisible.  

Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg (who won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival) and Willem Dafoe as a nameless couple, Antichrist explodes onscreen with pornographic sexuality between the two as their infant son crawls from his crib and falls from their apartment window to his death during their lovemaking.  Mutually grief stricken and in a state of shock, Dafoe’s psychotherapist (only known in the credits as he) persuades Gainsbourg (she) to come off her medication and face her anguish directly.  In the process, the two leave the comforts of the city to venture deep into the woods towards their getaway log cabin (aptly named Eden) to begin coping and healing.  As Gainsbourg sinks deeper into anxiety and depression, the environment surrounding their home grows steadily more oppressive with wounded animals appearing (including a talking demonic fox), acorns pelting their rooftop nightly, dead forests and swollen ticks.  As Dafoe pokes and prods Gainsbourg further, he uncovers a dark secret she’s been holding from him, at which point Antichrist proceeds to rape our eyes.

In the time honored tradition of writer-director Lars Von Trier, the film is an aesthetic provocation in every capacity and beyond.  Divided into several chapters (also a regular leitmotif of Trier), Antichrist is a slow buildup to corrosive, indigestible sights and scenarios.  There’s an overwhelming vibe of death around every corner of Trier’s magnum opus, all the while lensed with a lush visual beauty not seen since his downbeat 1996 spiritual epic Breaking the Waves.  From an aural standpoint, Antichrist is as close to David Lynch’s sonic ambience as any other major director has come, with heavy winds and implacable high pitched ringing in the ears.  Danish colleague Nicolas Winding Refn’s father Anders Refn again provides his Dogme editing technique, cutting between fast zooms, whip pans and the shaky camera effect to evoke anxiety.   The film’s explicit prologue and surreal coda are lensed in glistening black-and-white with symmetrical precision, in contrast to the lush yet desaturated images linking the bookends together.  It goes without saying both Dafoe and Gainsbourg lay their very lives on the line for Antichrist, portraying this damaged (and possibly demonic) couple with fire and passion. 

"Oh no!!!! Not the Evil Dead
again. Sheesh!"
The perverse, bizarre exercise in torment moves silent and slow, preparing for an explosive climax which, to this day, still divides, horrifies and enrages all who witness it in equal measure.  To say you cannot believe the evidence of your own eyes is an understatement as Trier’s duo move from the psychological violence they inflict on each other towards unspeakable acts of physical violence and torture. Inarguably, it depicts sex and genitalia in ways we would never think or wish to imagine.  This is the sort of artistic horror film whose director intends to see every extreme through to its logical end, however aberrant or unacceptable they may seem.  Although Trier’s admittedly vague about his own notions for the film as well as how it all resolves, the controversy brewed by his tightest, most alert work to date, more than makes up for the film’s shortcomings.  There’s an artistic height being reached by the writer-director’s inverse Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve intend to destroy one another in indescribably nasty ways.  Most of all, Antichrist is an experience, taking viewers on a journey deep into the dark side as well as honoring his own mentors such as Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman (whose images can be felt in particular scenes such as an outdoor cremation).  Whatever you make of Trier’s acerbic creation, you will not walk away from Antichrist unscathed, forever changed by the complete and unadulterated Hellscape its impish writer-director has so lovingly crafted.

-Andrew Kotwicki