This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Travis McClain’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I won the Criterion Collection Blu-ray Disc from a DVD Talk challenge in 2012. I meant to watch it several times since then, including for the 2013 and 2014 DVD Talk Criterion Challenges, but I kept not getting around to it for one reason or another.
Here's the thing: I actually get the film. It's In the Realm of the Senses becomes The Evil Dead - and I responded favorably to both of those films. I understand the themes and the storytelling connections between grief, fear, anxiety, misogyny, nature, evil, etc.
The problem is, I was left cold by Antichrist.
To be fair, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg both give terrific, vulnerable, captivating performances. It's the story itself that's the problem. The plot device of the death of the toddler, Nic, was not the focus of the story but instead a choice made because it's upsetting. This is apparent within the first two minutes of the film, as we watch Nic escape his crib and meander off to his doom while his parents copulate. It isn't what is happening that's the problem; it's the garish presentation that's the heavy handed work of a provocateur staking claim on human tragedy and shouting, "I have something brilliant to say about this!"
Except, Lars von Trier doesn't have anything brilliant to say about the death of Nic. We later learn that She clearly had some postpartum depression issues, mistreating and endangering Nic, and that she allowed him to die because she's an evil agent of Satan. Chapter 1, Grief, is therefore nothing but a ruse to manufacture emotion in us for the purpose of shocking us later when the truth of her nature and role in the matter is revealed.
Defenders will argue that I don't, in fact, get it; that this is an unflinching, daring look at the nature of evil and what could be more evil than a mother allowing her own child to die? I'll grant that it's about the nature of evil and that a mother allowing her own child to die is pretty damn evil, but I reject the suggestion that there's anything daring about using that concept in this film. On the contrary, von Trier shows himself to be little more than a pretentious provocateur.
It's a shame because if he had committed to a straight drama about grief, he had two terrific actors on hand to make that movie powerful. And if he'd shown enough restraint to find a more appropriate plot device, Antichrist could have been a chilling horror movie. But, he did neither of those things and instead the film has all the sophistication of an adolescent's daydream. The themes and the actors deserved better.
How Antichrist Entered My Flickchart
Antichrist < Jurassic Park III → #1656
Antichrist > Exiled: A Law & Order Movie → #1248
Antichrist < Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer → #1248
Antichrist < The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow → #1248
Antichrist > Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) → #1196
Antichrist < Son of Dracula → #1196
Antichrist > An American Tail: Fievel Goes West → #1183
Antichrist > Eraser → #1177
Antichrist > Hellboy → #1173
Antichrist > Boo → #1172
Antichrist > Attack of the Killer Tomatoes → #1171
Antichrist entered my Flickchart at #1171/1664