Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review - Antichrist

After a middle aged couple lose their toddler to a devastating accident, the husband takes it upon himself to treat his wife's depression. The grieving couple travel to a remote cabin in the woods, hoping to face her fears, ultimately curing her grief and despair. While within the woods events lead to the husband realizing that something deeper is ailing his spouse. Something within her has changed and the darker side of nature begins to overcome her both outside and in.

"Antichrist" is not for everyone. If the title alone is enough to turn a blind eye, then the film is something you should skip. That said, Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" is a dark and uneasy depiction of dealing with grief. The film felt very much like two different pieces put together to make one stupefying story. The film on the surface follows the unnamed wife's depression, but beneath the surface, the film follows her transformation into something completely unexpected.

"Antichrist" is told in six parts. A Prologue and Epilogue with four chapters in between. The chapters, Grief, Pain, Despair and The Three Beggars are each unique and help to put some structure into Lars von Trier's discomforting tale on the nature of man and woman. The prologue depicts the gut wrenching accident and is absolutely mesmerizing. It is beautifully shot in slow motion black and white, while being magnificently matched with George Frideric Handel's music screaming in the background. There is a return to this same piece of music in the epilogue, closing the film just as dominantly as it began.

The first two thirds of the film are simply put, a psychological thriller. Following the husband and the wife as they cope with the loss of their child and the different ways they handle it. The unnamed husband avoids his loss. He buries himself in his wife's grief and trying to help her cope. His absence of emotion and indifference to the loss of his child is both disturbing and immersing. On the other hand, the wife's grief appears dangerous. She tries to find any way to cope with the pain, which a few of these avenues, lead to devastating results.

The finale to the film, is however, a totally different beast. It instead shifts into a very apprehensive cat and mouse game between the husband and wife. The third act to the film is where all of the shock value to "Antichrist" lies. A few sequences are absolutely daunting, so much so, some viewers may find the scenes extremely hard to sit through. Despite all of the shock value and genital mutilation in the film, the overall experience is a another cinematic success for von Trier.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe both deliver polished performances here in "Antichrist." The chemistry that they convey together is unerring. Dafoe's absence of emotion as He, is undeniably daunting. Watching his character come to realize what his wife is becoming, is particularly riveting and by the time the third act is underway, Dafoe does his best in creating a restless mood to match the troubled tone.

Gainsbourg is exceptional as the center piece to Lars von Trier's screenplay, She. The transformation of Gainsbourg's character is (to say the least) substantial and to her credit, Charlotte delivers in commanding fashion. Her character engages the viewer with her tragic loss, but as the film progresses, the viewer begins to see the true nature of her ways. This realization is one of many lasting effects that can be attributed to the cinematic experience within "Antichrist."

The score to "Antichrist" parallels the eerie undertone that builds throughout the 109 minute film. There is a reoccurring slow rolling buzz that is remarkably unsettling. Von Trier also ideally uses the natural surroundings to highlight the score with a fretful mood. For instance, there are a few scenes that utilize acorns falling from the trees on to the roof of the house. These moments dramatically build an unnerved frustration between the couple, one that will eventually have some turning their heads in disgust.

"Antichrist" is a visual masterpiece. The images and cinematography that is used throughout the film is provocative, disturbing and thrilling. The slow motion shots and dream sequences are spellbinding and represent the catalyst of panic in Gainsbourg's desolate character. The final act is brutal to no end and kept me thinking for hours after viewing. Lars von Trier is known for making film that leave a dramatic impact and his latest is no exception. Finally, "Antichrist" is in no way a typical look into grief. Instead the film is a depiction of how tragedy can beget chaos, and here in "Antichrist," chaos reigns.