Retro Review: ANTICHRIST (2009){0}

“Chaos reigns!” is a now-famous line of dialog (spoken by a wolf) in Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, and it certainly seems to sum up the director’s point: Chaos does indeed reign, and no amount of preparation, good intentions, or philanthropy can change that fact. We may try to control our own tiny little corners of the world (and more specifically, the people that happen to populate those little corners) but nothing can stand in the way of decay, degradation, and death. Yeah, so Antichrist isn’t exactly a “fun time” horror film, but with this director, were you expecting anything different?

We open with a gorgeously-shot sequence in which a loving couple are having sex. So ardent is their lovemaking that they neglect to notice their unattended toddler, who promptly falls out of a window to his death. Yikes. (It’s worth noting that this opening sequence is under-cranked and high contrast, not unlike a big-budget jewelry commercial, aside from the quick shot of “full-on sexual penetration,” which feels a lot like fancy porn. But more on that in a minute.) We then move over to a cabin in the woods, which is where Man (Willem Dafoe) and Woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) do what they can to heal their wounds. They don’t do such a great job.

He is convinced that all the problems can be solved by analysis, by conversation, and by psychology. She remains … unconvinced. But the husband-on-wife therapy sessions begin nonetheless, and no amount of unpleasant surprises or creepy harbingers will convince Him to try a new path. But once the Man cracks the seal of Woman’s fractured psyche, well, you just know things are going to get worse. And boy, do they.

Booed at Cannes and subsequently embraced at Fantastic Fest and festivals beyond, Antichrist is a confrontational film that dances between the sublime, the mundane, and the shocking with little to no regard for audience expectations. Von Trier’s horror show is alternately fascinating (in Act I), slightly tiresome (Act II gets a bit chatty), and ultimately pretty savage — and I don’t just mean on a physical level. Much has been made of Antichrist‘s small handful of truly disturbing scenes, and while both are certainly repulsive (in a visual sense, but not exclusively), one can see how the flick’s shocking mutilations make sense “in the bigger picture.” And whether you find the film brilliant, repugnant, or somewhere in between, there’s no denying the powerfully strong work from Dafoe and Gainsbourg.

If Von Trier’s intention was to deliver a nightmarish landscape in which love, loyalty, and basic human sexuality were the root of all things evil (or if not evil, then simply chaotic), then Antichrist must be considered a true success. If the film spends a bit too much time in the verbose department, it compensates with an overall sense of disconcerting dread. Or perhaps Von Trier was just lulling us into a false sense of “arthouse safeness,” because the scary stuff (be it physical or otherwise) is delivered like a lead pipe. And I mean that as a compliment.