Antichrist (2009)

There are a lot of arguments in praise of and against Lars von Trier’s latest film Antichrist, the story of a young couple known only as He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who lose their child to an accident while they are in the midst of coitus. The guilt of this scenario throws She into a deep depression that He, as a therapist, feels he can guide her through. Early on, they decide to travel to a cabin in the woods that the two regularly vacationed in with their son. They call the cabin Eden. The film unfolds in chapters; the first chapter moves at a pace comparable to von Trier’s earlier Dogme style films and the violence and intensity escalate gradually. Von Trier does a good job of lulling the audience into a false sense of security in the beginning. As the intensity escalates, two of the main arguments against the validity of the film come into play. The violence is extreme and the implications of the two characters’ relationship have been interpreted as steeped in misogyny. I have to acknowledge respect to those viewpoints, however, for what it’s worth, my reading was a little more straightforward.

As far as the violence is concerned, von Trier has committed some grotesque images to film. It is valid to say that this could be irresponsible filmmaking and it is reasonable to be turned off to the extreme violence of the picture, but the violence in my opinion comes off as exploratory in the arena of the limits of evil. This exploration is relevant to the development of the characters and to the gradual escalation of mayhem from the calm beginnings of the story. The question of if or not it is totally necessary could be argued, but I think the violence is part of a complicated story, whereas a movie like Hostel (2005) expounds on violence in a story that doesn’t have enough legs to carry it past perhaps a really twisted Twilight Zone episode. Antichrist is a complicated unraveling, and the violence supports this dynamic.

With regards to the storyline, I respect the idea that it could be considered to be misogynistic, but from the point of view of entering into the movie strictly as a fan of horror movies, I found the give and take between the characters to be reasonable. I went into this movie cold and the sexual politics did not occur to me until after I had read more about the film. That is not to say that the argument is not valid, but my reading was a simpler version of the concept of reversing the roles in The Shining (1980). Not just in the semantics of a similar story of a couple trapped together struggling with insanity, but in the tone of the character development. She goes berserk in a timeline similar to Jack Nicolson’s character and He becomes a victim much in a similar pace as Shelly Duval.  There is also the strong suggestion that Eden is something of a catalyst for the couple’s degrading behavior in the same way that The Overlook Hotel compelled Jack to be less of a dull boy. And this is where the movie is strongest for me. All other things aside, von Trier creates a green hell out of Eden. The habitat around the cabin is an ugly place carved out of nature and the presence of a rustic workshop is a good indication that things are not going to end well. If or not Eden is Hell on Earth or projecting the appearance of evil as seen through the regressive state of mind of the characters, the sinister setting stands out.

I found the violence tolerable and themes of sexual politics did not come across to me as a stated agenda in my opinion. The film came off to me as more of a temper tantrum than that a socio-political statement and a temper tantrum can be amusing depending on how close you are to it. A really enjoyable film going experience for me is when I find myself considering a movie for days afterwards. Here, for better or worse, Antichrist succeeds.

-Billups Allen




Zombieland (2009)

The mark of a good zombie movie lies in the ability of the filmmakers to recognize and represent a reasonable combination of key elements of the genre.

* Do zombies move fast or slow? Fast.

* Can zombies figure things out? Sometimes.

* Which characters will rub each other the wrong way? Two guys, two girls.

* What comfortable situations will the protagonists recharge in? A celebrity mansion in Los Angeles.

* What unorthodox weapons will be used? Lawn edger, piano, Tilt-a Whirl, other.

* What destination have they heard is sage to occupy and settle in? An amusement park. (Why they think this is never elaborated on.)

* Heavy Metal? Yes.

* Gore? Medium.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is making his way across a zombie wasteland on his way to Ohio when he comes across Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Both reluctantly agree to travel together as long as Columbus agrees not to reveal his real name or inquire as to Tallahassee’s. To say much more really ruins what there is of the plot. This is due to my only complaint, a lack of expendable characters to watch fall under the wheels. But Harrelson and Eisenberg do make a likable team, as there is cause to root for them. In the arena of half-serious/half comedy “undead taking over the world” narratives, Zombieland has a few good laughs and some descent zombie violence. More is not needed.