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    Grim fairy tale

    Lars Von Trier's "Antichrist" transforms the teen-horror genre for adults, creating a grown-up scarefest so severe you might not want to watch it.


    (Originally reviewed at the New York Film Festival in September 2009.)

    The funny thing about "Antichrist" ... no, wait, let me back up. There is absolutely not one funny thing about "Antichrist."

    Written and directed by: Lars Von Trier.
    Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg.
    Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle.
    Edited by: � Mossberg, Anders Refn.

    Related links: Official site
    IFC Center
    323 Sixth Ave.
    (212) 924-7771

    New York Film Festival, 2009
    • Overview
    • Antichrist
    • The Art of the Steal
    • Broken Embraces
      • Police, Adjective
    • Precious
    • Wild Grass
    The contradictory thing about "Antichrist" is the name itself. You might go expecting to see flesh-eating demons or devil babies or razor-fingered wraiths or any number of other supernatural supervillains that horror directors dream up because their human beings are not scary enough.

    Lars von Trier is no formula horror director, and "Antichrist" isn't about the arrival of the Antichrist. It probably didn't need to be called that at all. It's about the inner darkness. It's simply about people.

    People are way scarier than monsters.

    You know how a horror movie goes: A bunch of overheated teenagers go into the woods to party, but as soon as they peel off from the group to go enjoy ... nature ... the monster slashes them up to teach them a lesson about nubile sexuality. In "Antichrist," Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg go into the woods, and it's just them. They've taken a long bus ride, followed by a long hike, to a cabin called "Eden," and that leaves them — being, notably, without a car — completely at the mercy of nature. They've become separated from the group — meaning, all of humankind.

    They have been propelled there by the death of their only son, who jumped out of a window while the two of them were having extremely slow-motion erotic sex. This is not adolescent fear of sexuality — that is, sexuality's very existence — it is playing on fear of adult sexuality, meaning parenthood and personhood. "What if I'm not good enough" begins to mean not good in bed but, "What if I'm not good enough to tame my desires and raise a child?"

    The death catapults Charlotte into a seemingly irrecoverable depression, and this is the first place where things go badly wrong, in the sense that Willem, being a psychologist, decides to go ahead and cure her. "No therapist can know as much about you as I do," he declares. Ethics, schmethics.

      Love means never having to say, "Don't kill me." I mean that seriously.
    If you listen closely, you'll hear some of the things that are going wrong even at the beginning, in their safe upper-middle-class Seattle apartment, before the forest. Charlotte seems to be the one with the big, bad emotional problem, but Willem has one as well — his need to control her. He rarely asks her a question — he just tells her what he's decided and what she must do.

    What happens in the forest — let's leave it undescribed here. But Von Trier has created a nightmare — part mythical, part brutally real — about confronting human fear. He has trapped his two characters in a place where cruel nature might destroy them, but they are in greater danger of destroying each other first. What is their fear? It is a fear of the animal inside themselves, and each other. The movie tries to reach one of our primal fears — not of sex, as the horror genre normally demands, but of love.

    Love means never having to say, "Don't kill me." I mean that seriously. What greater adult nightmare is there (besides losing a child) than having the person you love — the person you are bound and obligated to — change, through psychosis, perhaps, into someone you don't recognize? This movie is an exaggeration of that — of the psycho inside, of sadism and victimhood, of abusive, violent, co-dependent relationships everywhere. I love you! I need you! I'm killing you! But wait, don't run away, I love you! As over-the-top as the story becomes, certain moments seemed copied from real life. It hit me hard.

      It is a very good movie that you should probably never see.
    Up to now, this has been the most benign way I could describe this movie. In reality, it is a very good movie that you should probably never see. I think people see horror flicks because they are special-effect-y and basically unthreatening. The villains are safely made up and they go away when the movie is over. In this case, the villains are just people — the people closest to you in the world — and the violence is, let's say, humanly possible. And EXTREMELY unpleasant. If you made it through the Japanese film "Audition," then you might be okay with "Antichrist," but if you are not made of steel, save yourself while you can. Don't go into the woods.

    SEPTEMBER 28, 2009

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