For any fan of von Trier’s work, the opening scene of Antichrist is a little shocking. Since co-founding the Dogme 95 collective, all of his films have had a low budget, amateurish look to them. Sure, there were exceptions (the musical numbers in Dancer in the Dark, for instance) but nothing could have prepared me for the über artistic beginning to Antichrist. Ultra-slow motion, black and white images are presented alongside a Handel aria – a cynic may instantly think of Homer Simpson’s second Mr Plow commercial, but one can’t deny that it’s a thing of extraordinary beauty. It’s certainly a far cry from The Idiots (Idioterne), which was lazy enough to let various crew members get caught in shot more than once.
Antichrist is a horror movie and, as such, people should be prepared. It’s not for the faint of heart or those with a weak stomach, and it’s definitely not for anyone who is in the mood for some light entertainment. The film really only features two roles – Willem Defoe’s He and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s She. They are both getting over the death of their young son and, to make matters worse, He is an apparently talented psychologist who has the very unprofessional notion that it would be a good idea for him to treat his partner through the grieving process.
It’s rather horrid to watch a couple assume traditional therapist/patient roles, and more than a little unsettling. As a result, He is distant and cold, whilst keeping his own grief private, whilst She is equal parts submissive and resentful. He is determined that She confront her fears and this determination has horrific results.
Defoe and Gainsbourg are fantastic, and they must have known from the first time they read the script that this would be something special. The cinematography is stunning – I’ve never seen a forest appear quite so terrifying – and there’s a wonderful sense that there is a titanic battle going on within the couple’s minds (or souls) before things get (comparatively) worse.
As many will have heard, Antichrist gets particularly nasty. It’s no coincidence that the Australian poster resembles a Saw sequel. As with Irréversible, knowledge of a particularly nasty forthcoming scene is distracting, though it’s impossible to avoid the filmic chatter that has surrounded this film.
Horror film fans may find Antichrist too arty, whilst those looking for a classy art house feature will be shocked to their very core, so it’s hard to imagine just whom will enjoy this film, aside from von Trier fans such as myself. It is a stunning film, though it would be hard to recommend to anyone.Rating: