Just in time for the Halloween season comes Lars Von Trier’s first stab at the horror genre. After the suffering the tragic loss of their infant son, a couple (William Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg) attempt to mend emotional wounds that the death has opened. The wife (Gainsboug) begins to have recurring nightmares about the woods near their cottage in Eden. The husband (Dafoe), who is a psychologist, believes that the best cure for his wife’s grief is to confront her deepest fears. After much prodding, the wife agrees to take a trip up to the cottage. At Eden the couple quickly realizes that facing ones fears may not quite be the medicine they were hoping for.
Lars Von Trier’s nightmare look at the stereotype of the sexes is, if nothing else, a film that will stick with you long after you see it. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to the individual viewer. This is not the type of film that you really need to see at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning. The much publicized graphic scenes are indeed hard to watch and not easy to forget. Yet I found that those particular scenes were more distracting than anything else. They actually ruined everything that was so wonderfully set up in the first section of the film.
Antichrist is visually stunning at times, and raises a lot of interesting questions about the dispositions of both men and women. The theme of nature being Satan’s playground is fascinating. I really liked how Von Trier interprets the whole Garden of Eden story and juxtaposes it with the history of pagan women being accused and burned as witches. Lars Von Tier also touches on the idea of a woman’s pleasure being a punishable offense.
Unfortunately all these great ideas are overshadowed by the excessive later half of Antichrist which almost borders on torture-porn. When reflecting on the film you automatically think back to “the wheel” and other gruesome moments, instead of how wonderful Charlotte Gainsbourg’s performance is. While Antichrist is destined to be the subject of many film school papers for years to come; it is just not as strong, or as focused, as Von Trier’s previous works. The concept is great and the performances are good, but overall I would say this one is a rental.
On a side note, this film, oddly enough, reminded me of the Canadian film Lost Song that played at TIFF ‘08. That film was also about a disturbing tale about a couple that go to their cabin in the woods in an attempt to cure the wife’s postpartum depression. It would be interesting to watch both that and Antichrist back-to-back one day.