Criterion Reigns: ANTICHRIST Blu-ray Review

One of the most controversial movies of recent years hits DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S. on November 9th courtesy of IFC Films and The Criterion Collection.  This is Badass Digest’s advance review.

The Movie

Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play a husband and wife coping with the death of their child.  They retreat to their cabin in the woods (at a place called Eden), and chaos proceeds to reign.  Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark) directs.

Reactions at the Cannes Film Festival premiere ranged from thoughtful, considered praise from people like Roger Ebert to a swath of eviscerating pans, most notably Todd McCarthy’s declaration in Variety that “Lars von Trier cuts a big fat art-film fart with Antichrist”.  I was also partial to Jeffrey Wells’ similarly-themed Antichrist=Fartbomb” headline.  Our own Devin Faraci said in his review that “It’s disorienting and it’s difficult and it feels kind of brilliant.”

For me, the movie is perplexing, brutal, irrational, and repulsive.  At the same time, it is arresting, sympathetic, and beautiful.  The intertwining of all those things makes it impossible for me to say that I have anything resembling affection for it, since it’s like Antichrist reached right into my guts and twirled them up on a fork, then proceeding to do the same to my brains.  That conflicted response is exactly what von Trier was going for, as far as I can tell:  a cinematic expression of his battle with crippling depression and anxiety.

The unsettling acts that are on display in the movie are among the first things that people spoil when they discuss it.  Those moments are the reason people proudly declare “I’m never watching that!” when the movie is brought up in passing.  On the other hand, others will have their interest piqued, and not out of some grotesque penchant for suffering on screen.  They want to know why these high-profile artistes wanted to go there.

I think the people scared off by the depths of psychological torment in the movie are absolutely justified in avoiding Antichrist.  There’s nothing passive about how it approaches grief, and of all people, it’s probably the last movie that anyone would recommend to a severely depressed person, like its director or main characters.  If you try to watch a Disney princess movie afterward to wash it out of your brain, odds are that you’ll actually make things worse.

Antichrist is a terrifyingly powerful and uncompromising film, but I won’t ever be able to say that I “like” it, or even “appreciate” it due to the potential misogynist connotation that could be attached to that statement.

“Chaos Reigns” in Popular Culture

Maybe you’ve heard, but at one point, a fox growls “Chaos reigns”.  The film played Fantastic Fest in 2009, and unless someone can prove to me otherwise, that’s where “Chaos Reigns” went viral and the film got a film nerd/hipster second wind.  After an early press screening, moves were made to ensure that The Fox and his friend The Crow appeared in person before and after the festival’s public screening later that day.  The below video is a good look at how it permeated the rest of the festival that year and became a bacchanalian rallying cry.

Then this year rolled around, and this happened:

The Look and Sound

Antichrist was shot digitally, and the video quality is as good as the format allows.  In particular, the prologue looks absolutely stunning.  If you have issues with the blurriness or “ghosting” on display in various scenes, you’ve got an issue with how the movie was shot rather than Criterion’s job on the transfer.  The DTS-HD Master Audio mix also leaves little to be desired, with an exceptional mix that cleanly balances all channels across the board.

The Supplements

Almost everything is duplicated from the European release, and was created in-house by von Trier’s production company, Zentropa.

Commentary with Lars von Trier and professor Murray Smith
Professor Smith does most of the talking, and does his best to get von Trier to open up, but the director never quite relaxes.  Some people may be upset that von Trier doesn’t explain himself or give direct answers as to why he made the film or what it really means, but I really prefer it that way.  At the same time, I’m not a fan of mostly-mumbled commentary tracks that offer little to no insight.  The most I could get out of this was a further look at how mentally fractured von Trier is.  It’s no Joaquin Phoenix-style act.

Cast and Director Interviews [TRT 1:07:02]
Confessions of Anxiety [4:57]
Charlotte, Etc. [43:53]
Willem Dafoe: Agent of Fantasy [18:13]
The first featurette listed is von Trier and cohorts relating the story of his crippling anxiety and how it’s affected him and how it shaped the making of Antichrist.  The lengthy interview with Charlotte Gainsbourg is entirely in French, and is the most revealing and interesting extra in the set, as far as I’m concerned.  Dafoe’s piece was edited from pre-existing EPK footage into a sharp, effective piece by the wizards at Criterion, and is the one piece not found on the European release (as far as I know).

Making of Antichrist [TRT 1:04:14]
Behind the Test Film [6:32]
Visual Style [15:31]
Sound and Music [13:00]
Eden - Production Design [5:10]
Makeup Effects and Props [8:13]
The Three Beggars - The Animals of Antichrist [8:06]
The Evil of Woman [7:42]
Leave it to the Danes to put together Behind-the-Scenes featurettes that don’t suck.  “Behind the Test Film” gives a fascinating look at the extensive work done before principal photography started.  I really enjoyed the bit on the animals (Fox, Crow, and Deer) used in the film too.  The most interesting of them all is “The Evil of Woman”, which features the woman who did all the misogyny research.

Cannes 2009 [TRT 21:45]
Chaos Reigns at the Cannes Film Festival
Charlotte Gainsbourg [6:18]
Willem Dafoe [8:05]
My favorite thing included in this bundle of featurettes is the bit with the journalist demanding that von Trier explain himself. Aside from that, the interviews with Gainsbourg and Dafoe are interesting in that we see them rather taken aback at the bile directed at them. They took their contributions to the film very seriously, and you can see the dazed look in their eyes

Theatrical Trailers (3)
The  first couple of trailers are international, pre-acquisition trailers, and the last one is the domestic trailer cut by IFC.  The differences make it feel like IFC was playing up the horror angle more so than the original Zentropa intention.


Final Thoughts

Antichrist isn’t the kind of movie that you snap up and re-watch every few months, nor is it something that could ever pull off the shelf when trying to find something to watch with a bunch of pals over pizza on a Friday night.  The experience presented here by Criterion allows you to more comprehensively absorb the film with proper context, regardless of what you end up thinking of it.  Be forewarned: it’s the kind of experience that could sour friendships, romantic relationships, and your tenuous grasp on reality.  Regardless, it’s one of the most indelible cinematic experiences you’ll have for some time.

Antichrist hits the street on November 9th in the US, and the Blu-ray can be pre-ordered at Amazon for $32.49.  The DVD can be pre-ordered here for $35.99.  Clicking on those links make a small percentage of your purchase go toward funding the continued badassery of Badass Digest.