Thursday, November 5, 2009


It all began in 1929 with Luis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou where we see a man slit a woman’s eyeball with a razor blade (actually a calf’s eye). Since then we’ve been given such brazen shock cinema milestones as Salò (Pasolini, Italian), The Night Porter (Cavani, Italian), Funny Games (Haneke, German), and Irréversible (Noé, French), but that’s just to name a few.

Hmm, no American directors there. That’s interesting. I may stretch a little to consider David Lynch’s Eraserhead, but that’s more surrealist than shock.

Each of these films are appalling, sure. But they’re also kind of brilliant, if you take a step back and consider the scope of film in general. However, a film isn’t poetic “art” just because it pushes the limits. The hipster-intellectual crowd may bow over backwords for a fresh slice of shock cinema, but just because a film has gratuitous sex and deplorable violence, doesn’t make it great, or even worthy of cult status.

Enter Antichrist, the next feasible step in Lars Von Trier’s personal shock factory. And may I say, the auteur behind bold, innovative films like Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville, has surely outdone himself this time.

Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg star as a married couple who in a steamy, bravado prologue lose their infant son in a tragic accident. Gainsbourg blames herself as she falls deep into the wallows of grief. Dafoe, a professional shrink, steps in with his very odd, hands-on tactics to “correct” her sorrow.

All is good and mundane while the two work out their issues in their trendy loft apartment, but once they head to Eden, their cabin in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, the movie starts to seriously drift into delirium.

I’m not really sure how to describe the plot from there. Expect extremely slow-motion shots of a deer giving birth, talking animals, falling acorns, graphic masterbation, and a bit of the ol’ ultra-violence that would make any person squirm. By the end, I wasn’t really sure if the film was about anything in particular. As is the case with most shock cinema, Von Trier seems more interested in… shocking us, than delivering solid content.

But that argument goes both ways. On one hand, Antichrist deeply disturbed me. It is one, if not the, most gut wrenching movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. The violence gets over-the-top, sure, but it is definitely believable. On the other hand, Antichrist provokes some damn fine post-film chatter. There is a lot going on here, it just feels like Von Trier is the only one in on the joke.

So, all in all, I guess I can recommend this film. If for no other reason than the performances, both of which are brilliant (Gainsbourg won Best Actress at Cannes). But know what you’re getting yourself into. Antichrist is a test. A challenge. It just may not be one you’re willing to accept. B


  1. I thought about this movie a lot after we saw it, but I'm still not positive what to make of it. I sort of understand why some of the things that happened did, and others I'm still baffled by. I still feel like a lot of the things I don't get were integral parts of the story that tie the whole thing together, and without them it feels jumbled and messy.
    Performances were great though, I really enjoyed both actors.

  2. It was deeply disturbing. But you know I have a very strong stomach. And I must say I was smiling the whole film thinking "shit he really did that" (von Trier). I'm smiling right now. I could watch the deer, the bird and the fox...and the block of wood and the grindstone but that the scissors. Probably I'll never re-watch the film again. Maybe just to show it to my friends.
    Now this will sound strange but I love the film. Anyway I don't think its flawless. There are some editing cuts that I didn't liked and took me out of the scene. Other than that...the film is great. What it makes a great film great. 3 things, in my opinion, 1.great acting; 2.fantastic cinematography; 3.great story. This film just looks amazing, I mean really I might want to watch it again for how amazing it looks. Willem Dafoe was great and Charlotte Gainsbourg was just fantastic. This film is great. It cracked my top 4 of the 2009. If the film was as great as the Prologue and the Epilogue it would be nr. 1. I'm so impress by this film that I really want to see others Von Trier films. A.
    (You can't really say that this film is bad when the only goof on Imdb is that George Frideric Handel's piece "Lascia ch'io pianga" is wrongly listed as "Laschia ch'io pianga")

    1. Yeah man, very very disturbing. It's a rough ride, but I really respect it as well. I think I'd probably give it an A too. It isn't flawless, but it's fucking unique.

  3. This film has been high on my watchlist for a while, and I thought I'd check out your review of it. I must say, I take issue with your second paragraph. To imply there are no American shock cinema milestones is, well, wrong. H. G. Lewis's gore films, like Blood Feast, and Jon Waters's trash films, like Pink Flamingos, are key in this department. There's also argument to be made for A Clockwork Orange, The Wild Bunch, Bonnie and Clyde, Straw Dogs, and even Taxi Driver. And of course, Antichrist came out in the midst of America's "torture porn" boom, with Saw and Hostel. So, yeah, I'd say America has had a pretty big input as far as shock goes.

    1. Wow, 2009. I was so passionate about films, but didn't have the full skills as a writer to articulate that passion. So, yes, of course I agree with you that there are American shock films. However, of the ones you mentioned, I think only Pink Flamingos belongs in the list I mentioned. The others, some of which are shocking, don't match the gruesome shock of the films I mentioned. We're pulling hairs though. If I wrote this review today, and felt inclined to list "shock cinema" films, a few American flicks would definitely make the cut.