From the genius that is Lars von Trier comes this brutal, heart-wrenching horror drama about pain, grief and despair.
Anyone who has experienced the loss of a child should look away because von Trier’s melodrama cuts to the core; to the raw emotions that one feels when such a tragedy happens. And it’s not a pretty sight.
Following the funeral of his son Nick, who fell to his death while his parents had sex (watch out, it’s graphic), Willem Dafoe’s emotionless therapist takes his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to their cabin in the woods in a bid to get over her grief.
But Eden, the name they have given to this sanctuary, is a place the wife has grown to fear. So her husband uses his therapist skills to get to the root of problem, which all harks back to something terrible that happened the summer before.
What follows is a surreal nightmare, filled with potent imagery, as the wife descends into the black hole that fills her soul.
Von Trier’s Antichrist is no joy to watch, but its totally compelling. The way he makes nature appear foreboding, even supernatural is quite a feat. And by incorporating dreams into the narrative (à la Un chien andalou), he creates an almost spectral presence out of the seemingly normal (do acorns really cry?).
The graphic scenes, which drew gasps of horror when the film was screened at Cannes earlier this year, will truly make you wince. But no more so than if you have ever sat through Ai no corrida (1976), which parallels this film in its portrayal of obsession.
In fact, watching von Trier’s graphic melodrama, other intensely personal films are brought to mind, including most of Bergman’s canon, especially Hour of the Wolf, as well as more modern fare like The Shining and Misery (though much more shocking).
Charlotte Gainsbourg (who actually dresses like Shelley Duvall’s character in The Shining in one scene) delivers her lines as though she was reading them; all stilted and flat. But her performance comes from the emotion she feels from within. Hers is a totally physical performance.
As for Defoe, he holds all the emotion in, but gives an equally physical performance – especially in the last half of the film (DIY experts take note, always keep a spare wrench to hand).
If you think von Trier went berserk with Dogville and Manderlay, then Antichrist is the director taking one more step over the precipice. Is this cinema on the very edge or just an art house travesty? Are you brave enough to judge for yourself?
Released 24 July at Curzon Soho, Renoir, Chelsea and Curzon Richmond
Check out the special Antichrist events at Curzon Cinemas
To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.