Antibirth (2016) IFC Midnight/Horror RT: 94 minutes No MPAA rating (bloody effects, gore, strong language throughout, nudity, sexual content, drug and alcohol abuse, abhorrent behavior) Director: Danny Perez Screenplay: Danny Perez Music: Eric Copeland and Jonathan J.K. Kanakis Cinematography: Rudolf Blahacek Release date: September 2, 2016 (VOD)/September 9, 2016 (Philadelphia, PA) Cast: Natasha Lyonne, Chloe Sevigny, Meg Tilly, Mark Webber, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Emmanuel Kabongo, Neville Edwards, Morgan Bedard, Corey Pascall, Lili Francks, Marie-Josee Dionne, Jessica Greco.
I try to sound professional on here but sometimes, not often, I encounter a movie that forces me to regress to my teen years and revert to vernacular commonly heard in high school hallways or friends’ basements. I just encountered such a movie and here’s where I channel 16-year-old Movie Guy 24/7. Antibirth is one f***ed up movie! I wouldn’t use that particular word unless I mean it. Returning to my adult self and the level of professionalism I attempt to maintain, here’s how I’d describe Antibirth. It’s like a bloody fever dream co-directed by David Cronenberg (The Fly), David Lynch (Eraserhead) and Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects). I’m not even sure a mere plot description could do it justice. It’s even weirder than The Neon Demon and we all know how off-the-rails that one is.
It goes down like this. Hard-partying stoner girl Lou (Lyonne, All About Evil) takes an unknown drug given to her by local scumbag Gabriel (Webber, Green Room). The next day, she starts exhibiting strange symptoms that resemble pregnancy. Yes, the drug did something to her, but what? Nobody seems to know. Nobody is telling, not even her best friend Sadie (Sevigny, Kids). The action takes place in a small Michigan town populated by criminals, drug addicts, whack jobs and other assorted low lifes. Lou lives in a trailer once owned by her father, a mentally disturbed ex-soldier. The town is plagued by mysterious disappearances. Is it a government conspiracy? Is it the work of aliens? Who knows?
In the midst of all the strangeness, a mysterious stranger named Lorna (Tilly in her first movie in 22 years) shows up. A conspiracy theorist, she believes Lou’s claims that she hasn’t had sex in a year (“I think I’d remember if I had a dick inside me.”). Like the rest of the movie’s secondary characters, her role in all that’s going on in Antibirth is unclear. It makes about as much sense as a dream which is what I think writer-director Danny Perez had in mind. The most effective horror films are the ones you can’t easily explain (if at all). There’s nothing scarier than being in a situation that makes no rational sense. Rationalism is the last concept that applies to Antibirth.
Atmosphere plays a big role in Perez’ debut film. Everything, every place in this town is scuzzy. The motel rooms, trash-strewn homes, dark party spots, shabby bowling alleys and one of those family-themed pizza fun joints with creepy dancing mascots. The cold weather and nasty junk food Lou eats add to the bleakness of it all. Perez throws in some genuinely disturbing moments like Lou lancing a boil on the sole of her foot. The really gross, bloody scenes are saved for the final moments. I won’t say what happens but it’s something right out of Cronenberg’s warped imagination.
Lyonne started out as a normal teen actress in movies like Slums of Beverly Hills, Detroit Rock City and American Pie. I always sensed there was something different about her, like she was too smart to be making the same types of movies- e.g. high school rom-coms and sex comedies- as other teen actresses. She’s more at home in weird, non-mainstream flicks like All About Evil (a personal favorite!), Comic Book Villains, Die, Mommie, Die and last week’s Yoga Hosers. This is her true niche. What really great about Lyonne’s performance here is how unlikable she makes her character. She smokes, drinks, does drugs and, at one point, sticks her baby bump in a microwave oven. Definitely not the type of behavior one expects from a pregnant woman or even one that thinks she might be pregnant. Lou may be the movie’s protagonist but a heroine she’s NOT! Sevigny is also good even though she does little more than hang out with Lou and withhold crucial information. It’s good to see Tilly again. She’s good as a crazy bag lady-type with her graying hair and layers of clothing.
It’s been an unusually strong year for horror movies. Not only have there been more than a few effective ones, there have been a couple of originals. Antibirth falls under that category. I can easily say I’ve never seen anything quite like it. True, it borrows freely from Jacob’s Ladder, Rosemary’s Baby and nearly all of Cronenberg’s horror flicks. Perez has found a crazy way to mix them, one that’s both repulsive and compelling. You won’t always feel clean watching Antibirth. It’ll leave you feeling shaken, disturbed and confused. How many bad dreams have you woken up from feeling the same way? Like my teenage self said, it’s one f***ed up movie!