Chaos reigns in pointless Antichrist

Chaos reigns in pointless Antichrist

Source: AssociatedPress

By: Christy Lemire

Critic's Rating: 3/5

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Movie Title

Chaos reigns in pointless Antichrist


Lars von Trier

Star Cast

Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

To say that Antichrist is shocking would suggest that it's effective.

Certainly shocking us is Lars von Trier's point - or we can assume it is. Doing so at least gives us something to hold onto when most of the movie seems so maddeningly pointless.

The Danish writer-director has said this domestic thriller was the result of working through a bout of depression, a script he wrote as a therapeutic exercise. Watching Antichrist, though, that's hard to believe; so much of it seems so gratuitous, it's difficult to imagine it would be helpful to anybody, even its creator.

Among its imagery: a little boy falling from an open window to his death; graphic, sadistic sex; bloodied woodland creatures; and genital mutilation. And as it builds to its violent crescendo, it only becomes more hilariously absurd. By now you may have heard about the moment in which an injured fox, lying in the tall grass of a forest, lifts its head and growls out the cryptic warning, "Chaos reigns!" It's deservedly drawn both laughs and boos, and even become a bit of a catch phrase among film aficionados.

As for the story itself, well, it's pretty dull for the most part. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg star as a married couple known only as "He" and "She", pretentiously. Following the death of their young son in a freak accident - which they couldn't prevent because they were too busy having exquisitely photographed bathroom sex - they retreat to their cabin in the woods to work through their guilt and grief. This consists of long, achingly empty stretches punctuated by moments of shrill screaming and brute violence.

The first section is in slow motion and black-and-white, with the water from the shower paralleling the snow falling outside, and Dafoe's face contorted in ecstasy just as the child's face reflects his fear as he tumbles to his death. Gorgeous as this prologue is - the work of Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, who also shot von Trier's experimental Dogville and Manderlay - it's also so self-consciously artsy, it keeps the audience at arm's length. (And that's coming from someone who watched it at 37 weeks pregnant with her first child - a boy.)

Once the couple heads into the woods, Antichrist shifts to soft, intimate colour for the next three chapters, titled "Pain", "Grief" and "Despair." He insists they go to their remote, rustic cabin because it's the place She fears the most, and it just happens to be named "Eden" with great biblical portentousness. "Eden." And He is a therapist, so clearly he knows what he's doing.

Turns out, He didn't really know his wife very well at all - or her ability to afflict gross bodily harm using items from the tool shed. Antichrist will do nothing to quell the accusations of misogyny that have long been levelled against von Trier; the breakdown She suffers seems intended to titillate, nothing more.

Dafoe and Gainsbourg do dig deep for these mentally and physically rigorous roles, so you have to give them some credit for finding the fearlessness to go to such dark places. (She also won a best-actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for playing "She.") You only wish their efforts were in the service of something worthwhile.

Antichrist, an IFC Films release, is not rated but contains graphic violence, gore, sexuality and language. Running time: 109 minutes.

Rating: One and a half stars out of four.

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