Head bashing, perverted sex, stabbing, strangulation, testicle
smashing, entrail eating, ankle skewering and vaginal mutilation are
among the delicacies of this lacerating film, one of the most
provocative and unrelenting cinematic offerings of recent years.
From his earliest films Denmark’s brilliant--make that
brilliantly nutty--Lars von Trier has distinguished himself as
one of the movies’ most irrepressible troublemakers. He can always be
counted on to make latte-sipping arthouse patrons squirm, be it from the
gory stabbing in EPIDEMIC (1987), the prolonged child murders of MEDEA
(1988) or the startlingly graphic skull-crushing in DANCER IN THE DARK
(2000). A critics’ darling he may be, but von Trier has an undeniable
love of excess, and also a passion for horror (as was evident in
EPIDEMIC and the TV miniseries
THE KINGDOM, in my view von Trier’s
With those things in mind, 2009’s ANTICHRIST may be the
ultimate Lars von Trier movie. It was made after a bout of severe
depression, and is the most excessive of all his films. Those who’ve
accused von Trier of misogyny, arty pretension and over-the-top shock
effects will find plenty of ammunition here, as demonstrated by the
outrage the film caused at the ‘09 Cannes Film Festival (whose jury
presented it with a special “anti-award”). Keep in mind, though, that
one man’s pretentious shock-fest is another’s transgressive masterpiece.
A married couple, identified only as “He” and “She,”
are engaged in wild sex that begins in their shower and moves into the
bedroom, causing much toppling of objects and spilling of water…while at
the same time the couple’s infant son crawls out an open window and
falls to his death.
He and She are understandably traumatized. He, being a
prominent psychiatrist (and all-around control freak), decides, in
between bouts of increasingly desperate and perverse sex with She, that
a trip to a secluded cabin will do them good. She isn’t so sure, but
goes along with the plan.
Weirdness makes itself apparent from the very start of
their stay, when on the train ride up He hypnotizes She in a profoundly
creepy manner (making one wonder about his credentials as a shrink!).
Once ensconced in the cabin, ironically named Eden, He experiences eerie
visions of mutated animals and She hears the sound of a baby crying.
There seems to be some malevolent presence at work in Eden, which only
serves to further erode the protagonists’ already strained marriage.
This is confirmed by the appearance of a fox in the act of chewing out
its own entrails who turns to He and says “Chaos Reigns”…which,
as He and She’s marriage further degenerates into sadomasochistic sex
play and petty torture, it does indeed!
Many critics have attempted to deny ANTICHRIST’S true
orientation by slapping various fancy labels on it (“Dark Fairy Tale,”
“Gothic Drama,” etc), but it is very much a HORROR movie, a fact central
to the film’s appeal. In no other context, after all, could the
relentlessly ominous atmosphere, shock effects and darkly surreal
imagery possibly work. The film is an evocation of grief-driven insanity
borne out by real-life depression, material uniquely suited to the
Another quintessentially horrific element of this film
is the distraught-couple-recovering-from-the-death-of-their-child
set-up, which was admittedly inspired by Nicolas Roeg’s genre classic
DON’T LOOK NOW. Here, though, that concept is stripped down to its most
elemental basics: two characters and a cabin in the woods (and lots of
dangerous tools!). In this way the proceedings are claustrophobic and
oppressive as well as gruesomely horrific--this film WILL shake you, I
Filmmaking-wise Lars von Trier marries the stately
preconceived style of his early films (like THE ELEMENT OF CRIME and
EUROPA) with the looser, improvisational aesthetic of his later ones
(like BREAKING THE WAVES and the von Trier instituted Dogma ‘95
movement, which helped usher in the “shaky cam” style popular nowadays).
He also demonstrates a real gift for eliciting the best possible
performances from his cast, with Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourgh
delivering searing turns as He and She. The spectacularly uninhibited
Gainsbourgh, who won the Best Actress award at Cannes, is particularly
fine, creating a portrait of debilitating grief so intense it all-but
burns a hole in the screen, making for a profoundly traumatizing viewing
experience even without the sex and gore.
Director: Lars von Trier
Producer: Meta Louise Foldager
Screenplay: Lars von Trier
Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle
Editing: Asa Mossberg, Anders Refn
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourgh