Saturday, June 19, 2010
Antichrist- everything you need in horror
I first read about Lars Von Trier's 2009 film Antichrist while browsing Wikipedia during a night class. I read a synopsis, and a few days later found a streaming version online at some illegal hosting site or another. This film flashed "TEST" and the time periodically, and the sound was off from the action by about 3 seconds and I still sat through the whole thing. I was that impressed.
Von Trier brings a special style to the whole thing, but that's apparent in the first 3 seconds. Just watch the film. Netflix will stream it, which is much better than the way I first watched it.
My dad taught me, when we were watching The Others together when I was in the 6th grade, that the scariest movies work religion in somehow. I reckon he learned this in the 1970s, when The Omen made a big impact on him. Antichrist has this in spades, but also works in the subject my dad wasn't ready to broach yet.
I would suggest that sexual undertones are more powerful than religious ones in horror films. As a viewer, its tougher for me to get into the state of mind that I'm willing to accept demonic possession as a premise. Like anything else supernatural, the film has to make it seem natural to hook me. The Shining: ultimate haunted house story. Jeepers Creepers: you had me until he grew wings. C'mon.
I don't have a sophisticated way to relate sex and death, but it's there. Georges Bataille's book The Tears of Eros develops this topic carefully through a discussion of art. The book makes horror films make quite a bit more sense. Von Trier's film weaves sex and violence together in a similarly natural and sophisticated way.
A good horror story, to me, works like a philosophical paper, as a treatise on a particular topic. Antichrist could probably be just as effective on paper as on screen, as an investigation of what it means to be a woman. Charlotte Gainsbourg's character is writing a dissertation on gynocide, the murder of women, through history, and falls under the sway of its theological roots. This premise places man against nature. On the side of man is God, while nature is presented as the Church of Satan. As man made his way into the wilderness, he had to establish manly order as a bastion against the chaos of nature. Man's power over woman stems from her alignment with nature and Satan, as evidenced by her bodily cycle, over which she has no control. Thus, she is an instrument of Satan and a site of natural evil, and it falls to man to overcome her.
What a premise that is! It sets up one of those films that gives you something to think about. This is like a Nietzschean genealogy of power!
As you try that on for size, soak up what seals Antichrist for me. This film presents what it must have been like to be a settler of a strange land. Even the grass is threatening. The power and danger of nature haunts every shadowed tree, recalling an awe of nature lost in its modern subjugation. To watch this film and become afraid of the trees is what it would be like to experience the oldest horror of all, the kind that left paganism in its wake.
The violence in this film will make you recoil, but try to keep to the theme of the film and see those bodies as part of nature, living and dying in a flow. Then, once you feel that, apply it to the sexual content. It's as unsettling as it is amazing.