Antichrist (2009), by controversial director Lars von Trier, is the most disturbing horror film I’ve ever seen.
It opens with one of the most horrifying scenes in any movie I’ve watched. The ending scenes are even more excruciating. I won’t go into details to avoid blunting the shock factor, but consider yourself forewarned.
After the death of their toddler (“Nic,” played by Storm Acheche Sahlstrom), a couple who remain unnamed throughout the movie (Willem Dafoe as “He” and Charlotte Gainsbourg as “She”) deal with Her atypical grief over this heartbreaking loss. After She is hospitalized for a month, He, a psychotherapist, transports Her to their wilderness cabin, which harks back to the Garden of Eden and is in fact named “Eden.” There, they embark on psychotherapeutic exercises to help Her overcome Her grief and fear.
They seem to make progress, but His strange encounters with dead and dying animals—the Three Beggars: Grief, Pain, and Despair—coincide with Her descent into madness. He discovers Her thesis notes on “gynocide” that have degenerated over time into incoherent scribbles. He realizes She’s not as good a mother as He supposed.
She tells Him at one point, “Women do not control their own bodies; Nature does. … Nature is Satan’s church.” She demonstrates when she begins to terrorize him.
Fearing He will leave Her, She’s convinced He has become the enemy and intervenes violently to prevent abandonment. These climactic scenes are unbearably intense, gory, and sexually explicit. (Several scenes should have earned the movie an NC-17 rating, so beware.)
Von Trier’s perverse film is not for the squeamish. He developed it during a severe depression (which I admire because I’ve been unable to write while depressed), and his mental and emotional state during the writing and filming leach through to infect the mind and soul of viewers.
At the cabin, She renounces Her thesis and tells Him She believes that women are evil. Is the movie misogynistic? That depends on your point of view. Von Trier’s female characters are often abused, and NPR paints Him like male characters in von Trier’s other works as “a smug, sententious fool.”
While this film is sinister and unpleasant, Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography is gorgeous—especially the black-and-white scenes, the close-ups, and out-of-focus shots.
The acting is exceptional. Dafoe, who played Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), always gives a good performance, and Gainsbourg (Claire in von Trier’s Melancholia ) is stellar.
The movie deals with biblical themes about Satan, the Fall, and the nature of evil. But I couldn’t understand why the film was titled “Antichrist”; it had nothing to do with the man of lawlessness. When the handwritten credits rolled, I found out why: the director is billed as “Lars von Trier Antichrist.”
You will either love or hate this film. But as a study in dramatic horror, it’s a must-see for film students and enthusiasts alike. 4.7 stars.
Watch the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCgkoWZzOrc