Movie Review: Lar von Trier's "Antichrist"--and Why One Reviewer Walked Out

2/13/2010 Posted by Admin

Movie Review


Written and directed by Lars von Trier, 108 minutes.

By our guest blogger, Kicia Sears

I like to watch movies with a blank slate, avoiding everything but short plot descriptions. All I knew about "Antichrist," written and directed by Denmark's Lars Von Trier, who is best known in the States for "Dogville" and "Dancer In The Dark," was what was listed next to the show time. Trier has a penchant for violence, power dynamics and rules. Zentropa, his production company, is famous for being the only mainstream film company to produce hardcore pornography. He has won awards at Cannes and in the States, and often is the source of controversy, though he seems to like it. "Antichrist" promised to be a beautifully filmed, violent thriller. I assumed this meant blood, guts and enigma. And there certainly was all of that, but about an hour into the 108 minutes, I fled the theater. I haven’t done that since "The Transporter."

"Antichrist" tells a tale (in three chapters, plus a prologue and an epilogue) of a couple (credited as “He” and “She”) who are mourning the death of their very young son. The He is Willem DeFoe, whose character is a psychiatrist who decides to take on his wife, Charlotte Gainsbourg as She, as a patient to help her through her grief. Midway through this process, they decide to visit a cabin in the woods dubbed “Eden,” where his wife spent time working on her graduate thesis with their son. The rest of the film takes place at Eden as their relationship takes a turn for the worse.

Lars certainly knows how to build tension. In the beginning of the film, you feel the intensity of what the couple might be going through. DeFoe seems like a jerk, and his wife is so unstable you have the feeling that she’ll never recover. The mood is dark and eerie, and while watching, your stomach is tight in certainty that something terrible is about to happen.

But the film definitely is flawed. Every time there is a truly creepy scene, it’s ruined with something stupid, such as a shot of DeFoe’s slack-jawed face juxtaposed with a deer that has a stillborn fawn hanging from its rear end. Then, once the stay at the cabin begins and DeFoe and Gainsbourg’s relationship becomes strained, there’s a shot with DeFoe looking slack-jawed again, only this time while computer-generated acorns rain down on him. The most ridiculous example is DeFoe stumbling across a fox that is disemboweling itself in the woods. The fox takes a bite, turns his head to look up at DeFoe, and says “Chaos reigns!” in a deep, computerized voice. I burst out laughing despite myself. This is the point at which I realized that "Antichrist" might just plain suck. These sequences were so dramatic that they interrupted the tension of the beginning of the film and essentially ruined it for the rest of the movie, making it impossible to take seriously.

Later, the movie switches back to some uncomfortable, rape-esque sex (during which Gainsbourg is sobbing her eyes out). At one point, she asks Willem to hit her and when he won’t, she runs off to masturbate in the woods. Soon after, she comes upon him in the shed and tries to force him to have sex with her. He obliges, but she decides to spice things up with firewood and bash her husband’s testicles. He passes out from blood loss and pain but, as he’s still erect, she ups the ante by masturbating him until he ejaculates blood onto her chest and face.

This is when I slid my notebook into my bag and left the theater.

It’s not the violence I can’t handle. Plenty of movies have intense violence and gore, but maintain cinematic poise and mastery by telling a compelling story that includes violence. For me, it was the underlying misogyny and the superfluous violence of the film that made it terrible. While Triers seems to tackle the perception of women within the spoken parts of the plot, he still paints the woman as weak, hysterical and damaging to her children. Not to mention the husband’s attempts to calm her by throwing himself on top of her while she sobs, as if a good lay could fix everything. It didn’t need to be taken to the level it was to get a point across. A very good, very disturbing movie could have been made sans-ball crushing and clitoris severing (yes, that happens). As it was, it seemed as if the film was showing off the extremes to which it was willing to go.

It was a decent movie turned awful by over-the-top attempts to be deep and poetic, dizzying camera movement, and intense genital mutilation. If shock is the key, then this film succeeded by sacrificing actual horror and playing like a bad film student thesis with its pretentious Chaptering and refusal to give its protagonists proper names.

I, for one, am not fooled or mystified. Just nauseated.

Grade: C-

View the red band trailer for "Antichrist" below. What are your thoughts?

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  1. benjamin said...

    you got some of your details wrong, but we share the same feelings. if you'd stayed a little longer, you would have been in for an even less-delicious treat.