Fantasy, Film

Film: Antichrist

December 14, 2011

Watching a Lars von Trier film can be like rubbernecking at a horrible, twisted car wreck: you know you shouldn’t look, but you can’t avert your eyes. Antichrist (2009) is one of his most searing, brutal films, a bleak psychological horror tale about loss, grief, and selfish desire. There are beautiful, striking scenes in this film, and at times – like many von Trier films – it makes for fascinating viewing. But there’s also some real, unutterably repulsive ugliness, and much that I wish I could unsee.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe star as a couple whose son dies while they’re distractedly having sex. In the aftermath, “He” (Dafoe) — a therapist — ends up counseling “She” (Gainsbourg), whose guilt and grief is so powerful that she can barely function. In order to cope with their loss, they go together to a remote cabin in the woods to get away. He thinks that She can face her fears and begin to heal there. But things go horribly, violently wrong…

I don’t think of von Trier as a derivative filmmaker, but Antichrist is a rare case where his work reminded me of other directors. At times I felt a Nicolas Roeg influence (with its overlapping images of sex, violence, and nature); other times, there’s a distinct David Lynchian flare (what with the film’s eery atmosphere and creepy, shocking moments). In fact, to me it’s at its best when it feels like a Roeg/Lynch collaboration: a haunting, mesmerizing, slightly off-kilter potboiler. But in the end, this really is a von Trier film, and after subtly luring you into its somber, gray world, the notorious cinema provocateur finally rears his ugly head and takes the story in eye-wideningly revolting directions. At times von Trier’s shock tactics can make for powerfully effective cinema, but Antichrist tested my limits — and I have a pretty strong stomach. View at your own risk.

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