HALLOWEEN WEEK REVIEW # 2 – ANTICHRIST
Lars von Trier is an acquired taste. Not everyone likes his films. Most of them, like BREAKING THE WAVES, DOGVILLE and DANCER IN THE DARK are actually pretty challenging for the viewer. Von Trier’s approach and subject matter is definitely the work of a true auteur, but he is no stranger to controversy. ANTICHRIST is no different.
This isn’t von Trier’s first foray into horror. His early TV series, THE KINGDOM, (collected as two full-length films for American distribution), may have been his masterpiece. It’s layered, fascinating, and features some really great acting. It was also the source material for the Stephen King TV series KINGDOM HOSPITAL, which only seemed to hit its stride toward the end of its run, and never reached the level of quality found in von Trier’s original.
But where THE KINGDOM is perhaps von Trier’s most accessible work, ANTICHRIST is not an easy ride. This time around, von Trier gives us some of his most shocking and violent imagery, and it’s far from clear and straightforward. But it is, in several ways, even more successful as a horror film.
It is broken into several chapters, and begins with a strange, slow-motion sequence where a couple (Willem DaFoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) make love, while their child gets up out of his crib, walks around the house, and eventually falls from an open window.
The couple suffer from great grief after the death, as any parents would, but where DaFoe’s character seems to be able to go on with his life, his wife can’t let go. She has become emotionally crippled by depression and can’t leave their apartment. Her doctor also prescribes lots of medications.
DaFoe’s character is a therapist and tells her he wants her to stop taking all the medications, and he’ll help her get through this using therapy. She agrees. Part of the therapy involves the two of them going to a cabin in the woods where they used to vacation when they were younger. The forest is called Eden.
Once they get there, things seem to be improving, and she seems on the verge of a breakthrough. But this is deceiving. Instead, she slips into violent insanity, harming both her husband and herself. There are some pretty rough scenes involving stuff like genital mutilation (it seems that, since they were having sex when the boy fell, their very sexuality needs to be punished – and it’s pretty graphic). There’s also something about ancient witches who used to live in the forest, and there are animals who talk, in particular a fox who tells DaFoe that “Chaos reigns.”
Not everything in ANTICHRIST is clear and easily figured out. There are some aspects that will have you scratching your head. But there are also images that will haunt you long afterwards. This movie is not for the squeamish, but it does venture into territory we don’t often see in movies. It’s a powerful, transgressive film, and one of von Trier’s best works.