A new Lars Vor Trier film means a guaranteed buzz. This time around he outdid himself though. He succeeded to shock Cannes and even managed to score some actual puke reactions at TIFF. Perfect marketing for your film as many people will automatically want to see it, even when they're not directly drawn to Von Trier's work. Question is of course, did Antichrist (and Von Trier) deliver?
Von Trier has been straying from the Dogme path for some time now, but Antichrist is his first film in a long time where he returns to a more traditional styling. While films as Dogville, Manderlay and The Boss Of It All are clearly separated from the Dogme movement, they remain very minimalistic and still seem to pursue the original ideology behind the Dogme movement.
The opening of Antichrist leaves little to the imagination. Ultra-stylized, artificial and controlled. Playful use of slow-motion and Händel playing in the background. This is no Dogme alright. After letting the film sink in for a while I was surprised how much it made me think of some recent Belgian films. Both Linkeroever and Vinyan came to mind almost instantly when looking for films to compare Antichrist with.
At its very core Antichrist is a drama, but quite faithfully presented as a horror film. While revealing its actual premise would be quite the spoiler, it follows a very similar path to Linkeroever where a tragic (or at least dramatic) event is distorted into horror. When the son of Gainsbourg and Dafoe tumbles through the window three stories high while they are happily making love in the bedroom, all is in place for a nice little guilt trip. Gainsbourg suffers, Dafoe (being a psychologist) tries to pull his wife through these difficult times.
Von Trier uses a range of horror tricks but divides them rather strictly between the first and second act of the film. The first part is mostly suggestive, depending on moody drones and ominous images of simple everyday objects to create an uneasy atmosphere. The second part is way more direct and involves the gruesome scenes that most people will have heard about. That said, Antichrist is not really shocking as the gore really is quite limited. The explicit sexual nature of the film is probably what made people so edgy in the first place, if you look past that there isn't all that much worth puking for. Not a bad thing really as the film works perfectly well as is, just a pleasant warning for people expecting to be revolted from start to finish.
Visually there's also a clear division within the film, between the hyper-stylized and superbly orchestrated scenes and the much rawer and grittier parts in between. While this grittier style might feel closer to Dogme it's still far away from the uncaring and "laisser faire" film attitude of Von Trier's former baby. Even during the rawer scenes the camera work feels more controlled and composed than in any other Dogme film. The soundtrack is equally important and resembles the ambient soundscapes found in Vinyan and Linkeroever, often somewhat crudely edited between regular scenes and eerily effective in creating a heavy atmosphere. One scene in particular stands out, when the sounds of rustling trees is suddenly added to create an almost noizy soundscape. Impressive stuff.
From the moment Dafoe and Gainsbourg travel back to Eden the film takes a more symbolical approach and the actual story might be a bit more complex to follow. Not long after that Antichrist shows his gruesome side, creating a rather big shift for viewers to bridge in the middle of the film. It's also quite hard to take everything in with only one viewing and people not really familiar with the subject at hand will have a hard time completing the puzzle. Luckily the internet provides some very clear answers for those wanting to get a complete (and fitting) answer as to what it was all about.
Antichrist is atmospheric, moody, technically impressive and pretty mysterious. It's gory and contains a couple of harsh scenes, but never actually shocking (let alone added for simple shock value). The mix of drama and horror works very well and the actors give their all (or almost, as they used body doubles for two scenes) to make it work. It's certainly not a film for everyone, especially not if you're looking for simple and pure horror or drama fun, but if you like to be surprised, there's plenty to enjoy here. Hope Von Trier continues on this path, it would be a shame to see his talent further wasted on any more Dogme films.
Check out the trailer for a taste of what to expect.