The customary cries of misanthropy replaced last year with catcalls of misogyny, Antichrist returns in the Museum of Modern Art “The [Oscar] Contenders 2009” series. Actually, it is no more anti-woman than Repulsion, or anti-mother love than Psycho, or anti-parent than Don’t Look Now. It expropriates aspects of all three -- but they are impossibly beyond its reach.
Although assessments about him run from sheer genius to pure fudge and worse, director-writer Lars von Trier leaves few people cold with his controversial, experimental, shocking and pessimistic work. Its title a not very relevant tie-in with other hellish horror flicks, Antichrist begins promisingly for the genre but descends into schlock/slasher-school stuff. Audience giggles may have come from nervousness but were more likely at the pomposity of titles, rasped vulpine wisdom words, menacing acorns, and Saw franchise mode.
Art seeks safety in couching nasty riffs about the present in the past or in imaginary far-off places. Still, one wonders why the Dane chooses Western U.S. mountains -- Coloradan in Dogville, Washington State’s now -- since he will not fly here. And the brutality pictured in this Scandinavian’s horror film is as nothing to the culinary cruelty in front of screened starving Bombay and European ease amidst black Haiti’s misery in his and Jørgen Leth’s The Five Obstructions.
Aside from eviscerated or monstrously birthing deer, talking foxes, Poe-crows, and seconds of a doomed infant son, there are only two presences, Willem Dafoe’s He and wife She, Cannes Best Actress Award Charlotte Gainsbourg. Far from woodsy foothills nature, He and She make winter love in their apartment while, maybe seen by her, toddler Nick escapes his crib and in soft slo-mo goes out the upper-storey window cradling a stuffed animal.
The non-color “Prologue” over, in blue color scheme “Chapter One--Grief” She collapses before the gravesite, which He fails to notice for several paces. Banging her head on bathroom porcelain, curling in the fetal position and popping pills, She wallows in head- and basket-case sorrow. Flushing psychoanalyst Wayne and his pharmacotherapy, the therapist husband takes on his wife’s case. Glacial and logical, He would avoid patient-risk contact, but that is not easy with a near nymphomaniac.
During shrink sessions, it comes out that She feels that, though loving them, He did not much care what she and the baby did. For his professional part, He feels She needs to confront her fears, especially the greatest one, the cabin named Eden where She had abandoned her thesis while seeking writer’s solitude with the son.
So off go the two of them through ferny woods, not to grandmother’s house, but to the heart of darkness that is nature, called “Satan’s church.” For the obtuse, it is spelled out that nature is outward and, as in “human,” inside as well, and that evil dwells in the latter.
A proof She offers that her affairs do not interest him, is his ignorance of the decision to drop the investigative research. A further but later one is his realization that her scholarly subject was to have been inquisitional torture inflicted on women in the past, collected under the scrapbook title “Gynocide.”
Eden is Hell, as the couple taunt and tease, make up and make love, uncover Polaroid snapshots of left (“sinister”) boots on right feet, find unexplained white spots on hands, cower under storms of falling acorns, and fall apart themselves. Evil directed against women turns into evil within possessive women, as the film downspirals to a Venus flytrap climax beside which that of Takashi Miike’s creepy though playful Audition/Odishon is child’s play.
Suggestive vocal music, twisted white body parts amongst roots, and spectral womenfolk presumably released to walk uphill, bring “Antichrist--Epilogue” into the light. But too late to save soul or movie.
(Released by IFC Films; not rated by MPAA.)