Antichrist Blu-ray Review
- 2.35:1 ratio.
- Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio.
- Single disc, coded region B reviewed.
Every so often, a film comes along which pushes people's buttons. It's not just trash like Eli Roth's Hostel either, as critically acclaimed, serious works such as A Clockwork Orange, Last Tango in Paris and Cronenberg's Crash have offended as many as they have impressed. Lars von Trier's Antichrist is the latest to provoke, but is it really as sickening as some claim?
Antichrist is the story of a couple who are grieving the loss of their young son, who dies in an accident at the beginning of the film. The man, a psychiatrist played by Willem Dafoe, tries to treat his wife, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, and therefore save their marriage, by taking her to their cabin in the woods where she spent time alone with their son while writing her thesis on gynocide. Once there, she starts to believe that both women and nature are evil, and descends into madness.
This may be the plot, but it's not really what Antichrist is about. It's about terrible grief and loss certainly, but it could also be about marriage, misogyny, a subject seemingly dear to von Trier's heart, or female sexuality, or perhaps even the need for men to control women, with its acts of hypnotism and male-driven psychotherapy. Or is it none of these things and is as they say, an unpleasant, offensive, dirty little film made only to shock and disgust. The trouble is, I think it's all of these things and more.
It's frustrating to dig into Antichrist's meaning, as the wealth of surreal imagery used throughout is difficult to decipher, leaving you with the feeling that either you're not quite clever enough to figure it out, or that you're being teased by a master craftsman into looking for meaning when there may not be any.
It's easy to get caught up in its look too, as it's stunningly shot by Anthony Dod Mantle, with the beautiful, if a little kitsch, slow motion black and white opening sequence set to an equally beautiful rendition of Handel's Rinaldo, being a particular standout. The performances are both outstanding, with Dafoe's subdued character a perfect contrast to Gainsbourg's shrieking, guilt-ridden woman who must mentally visit some very dark places to realise the levels of despair she displays.
So far, so arty, but Antichrist has been billed as a horror film, so where's the horror? Alongside references to Tarkovsky and David Lynch, the influence of films such as The Evil Dead and even nasty exploitation like Jorg Buttergeit's Nekromantik is also there. Antichrist isn't frightening, but it is disturbing, eerie and uncomfortable to watch.
This is amplified by the inclusion of strong violence, nudity, self-mutilation and briefly, some real sex. Although the wince-inducing violence doesn't linger onscreen like it would in a 70s exploitation film, it retains that dirty feel, tipping Antichrist over into that genre rather than straight horror. It's not a bad thing though, as it puts the viewer even more on edge.
To answer my original question, no, Antichrist isn't the danger to society it has been labeled as. It's thought-provoking, subversive, challenging and extremely well-made, but tinged with an uncomfortable notion that you're being manipulated with an almost impish glee throughout. It's the best thing Lars von Trier has made, but only you can decide if it's for you or not.
Follow the link below to continue reading our thoughts on Antichrist's audio, video and extra features.
Antichrist uses a variety of filming techniques and as such is not your regular beauty-fest one expects from a Blu-ray transfer. One minute we're handheld, the next we're watching CGI-enhanced slow motion and the next, it's muted blacks and greys in super close-up - none of which you would use as an HD demo!
However, as the film was shot using RED HD cameras for the most part and it was distributed by Lars von Trier's own Zentropa Entertainment company, we must presume that what we are seeing on screen is the director's vision. The clarity is amazing though, especially when the screen almost freezes on Dafoe's and Gainsbourg's faces during the opening scenes, plus the natural sharpness delivered by Blu-ray is ideal for picking out the immense detail in some of Antichrist's more startling images.
It's the same case for the audio too. It's nice to be given the option of a Dolby Digital track alongside the DTS-HD mix, but it's the latter that impresses most. Like the visuals, plenty of attention has been lavished on the sound effects used, coming across like an organic version of Lynch's signature industrial noise used in Inland Empire. The surround's are mainly employed when the movie ventures out into the woods, where they provide spacious ambient sound.
Through the first half of the film, the dialogue comes over as muffled and unclear and thanks to the lack of English subtitles, it can be very difficult to pick up certain lines and words. This is explained in the commentary track as being intentional, so don't go adjusting your receiver!
Antichrist is not a Blu-ray reference disc, but it does deliver an acceptable, if unremarkable sonic and visual experience.
A total of nine featurettes, ranging from five minutes to fifteen minutes in length, start us off by covering technical aspects in The Make-up and Props of Antichrist, The Visual Style of Antichrist, Eden - Production Design and The Sound and Music of Antichrist, plus the more esoteric content of The Evil of Woman and Confessions of Anxiety. These are joined by The Three Beggars - The Animals of Antichrist and Behind the Test, which shows the test footage used to try out the experimental camera techniques used in the film. This does a good job of making you want a Danish version of the movie too!
The final featurette is Chaos Reigns at the Cannes Film Festival 2009, a short look at the tedium of promotion, but worth it for the Daily Mail (who else!) reporter in the press conference demanding von Trier justify the making of the movie. His response is wonderful and sure to be misquoted for ever more!
Lars on Trier joins moderator Professor Murray Smith for a commentary track, which is a little frustrating to listen to. Professor Smith is an obvious fan of on Trier's work which does lead to some minor gushing, while Lars is in full-on mumble mode, speaking many words by rarely actually saying anything. He is more forthcoming on the technical aspects and his influences, but anything about what he intended a scene to say, forget it, he'll just tail off after a few minutes avoidance. This adds even more weight to the possibility it's all a big wind-up.
Finally, there are two short, informative and surprisingly revealing interviews with Gainsbourg and Dafoe, plus the theatrical trailer. An excellent package all-round, just don't expect it to shed too much light on the film's messages.
Christopher Hart, who writes for the Daily Mail, said Antichrist 'plumbs new depths of sexual explicitness, excruciating violence and degradation' and that it's 'sick, pretentious trash. But of course, he 'hasn't seen it himself, nor will he'. Yes, it's a very tough watch, not just for the violence but the intense emotion too, but you're rewarded with a very original and thought-provoking film. I won't deny it, there is the chance you'll end up agreeing with Mr. Hart, but at least you'll have actually watched it before making up your mind.
Read the entire Daily Mail article here.