(Note: I watched AntiChrist knowing almost nothing about the story, and this review will not mention specifics of the story so you may view it in the same unspoiled state.)
Despite Lars von Trier’s pedigree as crafter of upscale arty horrors, it feels odd to call AntiChrist a horror film… but it is truly horrific, and you should know that before you decide to rent it.
In the prologue, we learn that AntiChrist is predicated on the simplest, most brutally realistic horror: the horror of grief, of abysmal guilt, of mistrusting those we love best. But rarely is true horror so intensely wedded to wrenching drama. It’s engrossing and sorrowful and terrible… and deeply, truly scary. AntiChrist shatteringly portrays the crushing physicality of grief: no soft-focus gentle weeping and hankie-dabbing here, but the raw, biting panic and despair that could all too easily escalate into something still more horrible.
Be warned: as we’ve come to expect from von Trier, this film is stomach-churningly graphic (no, really. Really really really. REALLY), uncompromisingly bleak, and some critics decried AntiChrist as offensively misogynistic. I disagree, but that’s beside the point: the message to take away is that AntiChrist will not leave you munching the last of your popcorn as you hum a happy song. It’s grotesque, bleak, revolting, yet it has moments of real beauty.
It’s a polarizing and genuinely shocking work, and its brutal interplay of grace and gracelessness reminds me of nothing so much as a particularly nasty piece of Northern Renaissance religious art — though the religious symbols here are not so easily decoded, with good reason.
Say what you will about Lars von Trier, this is the first film in a long time to really scare me. Knowing his reputation, I was scared before I even hit “play.”