Once you're passed these moments you may, like I have, see that there's more to the film than just these upsetting scenes, but it is hard for some people to see past them. However I don't think they are the hard parts, the hard parts are the unsubtle and heavy handed plot moments and threads, and yet there's also a lot of good and great moments from the film too.
Antichrist most definitely has it's own deliberate controversial and shocking moments to it, and yet once you've seen the film you could probably see it working with over half of these shocking moments removed. Some of the horrific moments do belong in the film and work well while others definitely don't, and the one with the woman masturbating the man until he ejaculates blood is a prime example. It's less horrific, more stupid, indeed it raised a fair laugh in the audience during the screening.
I went in knowing about the eighteen rated scenes and the fact that in the UK we would be seeing the film uncut, so I knew roughly what to expect, so let's look past the headline grabbing moments and see what the film really has to offer.
From the opening scenes the film is beautifully shot, and I honestly mean that. All the dream sequences are filmed in a style we're not really seen before, and they look marvellous, like some cross between the ICO video game and pastel coloured, hand drawn animation. Then there's the wonderful cinematography of the flashbacks or past events, filmed in slow motion black and white and looking just as stylish. These scenes totally captured my imagination and to be honest didn't need any shock and horror treatment to get me engaged.
The story itself is very good and well told. It evolves slowly and has you guessing as to who and what is to blame without any tricks or misdirections, just through the natural progression of the story. In fact there's no real huge surprise moments, and neither do you see any of the twists and turns coming.
There are some moments which are rather heavy handed which seem to go against the grain of the rest of the story which is mainly subtleties and considered turns. Plot threads such as the animal symbolism or the good versus evil with nature being good, come the end of the film the animal and nature moments seem rather over the top and stand out like a sore thumb. I find that a real shame, because there is so much around the main plot threads that is so well told, and shown without being explained, barely shown at that, allowing the audience's mind to put the images and moments together.
There's another scene that stands out as being odd and that's the very final moments. As usual I shan't describe any of it and ruin it for you, but suffice to say that it had myself and a few other reviewers thoroughly confused, and perhaps that's the reasoning for it, but it didn't seem to fit with the rest of the film, or it was trying to tell us something we just didn't get – I suspect that's what we'll be told anyway.
Confusion aside the story is strong and reveals itself well, and the main thread is a powerful one that delivers all the way until some of the closing scenes. While the reveals may not be the huge thriller twists and turns that you might expect, there are some surprising and shocking moments and are very well scripted and realised.
Willem Dafoe gives a superb performance, as he always does, and he looks great in this style, particularly during the black and white scenes. His face is such a great one to see on the big screen, but it's his acting that really does draw in the audience, and here he's once again engaging and strong.
I'm not so sure about Charlotte Gainsbourg's performance, she's dour throughout the film, although that is for obvious reasons it still seems a rather flat performance until it really gets going. It's also strange that a lot of her lines sound like they are overdubbed. Perhaps we're not supposed to like the character or grow attached to her, but that was the feeling that I had watching her performance.
Antichrist is a good film which is slightly obscured by controversy and a few shocking scenes, but believe me when I say you should work through them for they are very short and some of them are very relevant to the story.
There's a strong and emotionally charged story to be had here, and some of the reveals are incredibly subtle and well scripted, especially one of the key moments near the end of the film that reflects back to the beginning, it's entirely miss-able and yet has a huge impact on the story.
Not only is there a strong story that, for the most part, is subtly told, but the visuals and cinematography are gorgeous and help set some incredible tone and feeling for the film, and they too are used to great effect in the telling, and retelling, of the story.
The horror element is not only confined to the blatant shocking scenes, and the layered script provides a horror element on many different levels, emotional as well as physical.
Although Antichrist upsets and deliberately courts controversy, it's a very intelligent and sumptuous looking film, and should be enjoyed by horror and artistic fans alike.
Filmstalker at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009
UK IMDB Film Details