film review: Antichrist (2009)

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At this stage any film reviewer worth their salt has seen Lars von Trier‘s latest film, Antichrist. The controversy that ensued after its screening at Cannes meant that it was top of my list of “must see” arthouse films this year.

Lars von Trier's Antichrist posterI know this is a bit pretentious and all and maybe slightly disqualifies me from the monikor “average” but what can I say? I like making up my own mind about films and if I didn’t see this one then I’d never know what the other reviewers were talking about. Well, ok, I don’t actually have a list of “must see” arthouse films, just “must see” films, but I wanted to make it clear from the outset that Antichrist is an Arthouse film with a capital A.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I only read other reviews after I’ve seen the film and in other reviews I keep seeing mention of Saw and Hostel. I can only assume that some of these people haven’t seen any of these films. First of all, they are completely different from each other and second, they are worlds away from Antichrist. Seriously I don’t know where they get this stuff. And as a word of warning to horror fans, if you want to see a film like Saw or Hostel don’t watch Antichrist. This is not a horror film, but it is a film about horror.

There’s no point in me talking about what other people thought of it though. I hope by now you’re reading because you want to know my opinion… and in my opinion, this is a really good film. Now ok, we’re talking about a certain type. This is not a film to watch for a relaxing Friday night, like I said, this is Arthouse and if you’re going to watch it then you have to be in the mood for it. But if you are in the mood for a good think, it’s well worth a watch.

On a basic level it’s an interesting exploration of the structure of a relationship, how this particular couple interacts following a tragic event. I suppose you can gather from this that it is not a plot driven film. It’s driven by studying character and emotion, or lack there of. It’s also a stunning piece of cinematography, it is a beautiful looking film. I did think at times it was slightly unsubtle in its use of that whole “enviroment reflecting the state of mind” device… but then again, I do think it can work so don’t take that as a strong criticism. In terms of acting, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg both perform ably in what I do think were very difficult roles. I’m certain that this all could have gone horribly wrong with less gifted actors. I don’t know if the performances were sustained throughout the film, but still, given the focus on them (they are the only two characters in the film), it was excellent work.

I have to reference a couple of films here – Irréversible and In The Bedroom. I know I’m straying away from the “average film review” ethos here but hey, sometimes a film demands it. Also I wouldn’t recommend Antichrist to anyone looking for an average film so I’m saying it’s ok to talk about films that the average person may not be familiar with. You can leave me a comment if you disapprove 😉

But anyway Irréversible and In The Bedroom. I thought of both of them while watching Antichrist. Now I hated Irréversible, I thought it was pretentious, overwrought, self absorbed crap. I really thought it showcased a lot of what makes arthouse films so inaccessible to the general public and for that reason it really galled me. I liked the idea but the execution was sh!t. The reason I was thinking about it though, was that it caused the same kind of controversy on its release and it wasn’t worthy of it either. In The Bedroom, on the other hand, is excellent film. It has the same kind of undercurrent as Antichrist, they both make you feel slightly voyeuristic, like you’re watching a situation that you have no right to see. If you haven’t seen In The Bedroom and you like Antichrist you should definitely watch it. Though I should be clear, they’re not similar at all. If anything they are contrasting ways of making a film about a similar subject.

There’s been a lot of talk about misogyny and many reviews I’ve read seem intent on judging Antichrist on Lars von Trier’s body of work rather than just looking at this one film. I suppose that’s personal preference. I would never judge a directors work based on another film just because it’s their film. If there’s some link in the stories or if it’s a sequel then that’s different but personally I think every film stands on its own. Ok, there is such thing as context but I believe that when a director puts a film out there it is there to be personally interpreted by the viewer. Who directed it isn’t important, it’s the film itself that we watch and hopefully enjoy, why should who directed it and what films he or she has directed before play any part in our viewing? For the record, I didn’t think it was particularly misogynistic. I do think it’s open to be interpreted in different ways and if that’s the way one chooses to interpret it well… as always, how you view a film is up to you.

I’ve digressed again so I’ll finish off… Antichrist is a film that you can read a lot in to, or nothing in to and everything in between. It’s interesting like that.


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