Body horror is a fickle horror sub genre to pull off. In a post-David Cronenberg horror world where the master is too busy doing boring period dramas and nihilist parables, others have tried to irk their way into his waiting throne to limited results. The latest comes from writer/director Danny Perez, coming with a more punk rock aesthetic than something like a Videodrome in the form of Antibirth. Taking plot elements from The Brood and having a clearly The Exorcist style influence on the editing, Perez gives this story of a woman lacking direction in life finding herself in a brutal situation of creating life while her’s feels stunted. Now the question is, does Perez convey this in his own style or is he simply ripping off Cronenberg wholesale?
Those questions are conceivably quelled by the opening of Antibirth, in which our protagonist Lou (Natasha Lyonne) has herself a night of debauchery at a local abandoned warehouse. While there, Lou has sex with one of the low life reprobates after mosh pitting in drunken drug-fueled madness. Of course, this is all par for the course for Lou’s normal routine, spending most of her time drinking, taking drugs and eating processed food with her fellow white trash compatriot Sadie (ChloÃ« Sevigny). While trying to reassess her life, Lou realizes that she has all the symptoms of pregnancy, something she didn’t conceive being capable of after a previous miscarriage. Well, given her lifestyle, it’s unlikely that anything human could grow in her womb. However, some shady conspiratorial dealings with local toughs who sell clean pee in jars for drug tests Gabriel (Mark Webber) and Warren (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) hint that the being inside Lou may be… otherworldly.
Antibirth is about as messy as the average human birth. Or, for a less sticky metaphor, Lou’s own ramshackle of a house. There’s a basic plot at the center, but it often meanders in favor of showing off Lou’s environment. Normally, this would be a pretty substantial fault, given the fact that Lou is a rather despicable unsympathetic character on paper. Yet, there’s just the right amount of sympathy to be mined out of her mainly due to Natasha Lyonne’s performance. Lyonne’s post-Orange is the New Black comeback she’s having has been a long time coming, turning her real life issues with substance abuse into a new phase of her career. Lyonne has the right mixture of sardonic charisma and regret that breathes life into Lou’s dilemma. As she suffers, there’s a self loathing there that makes her lack of motivation to pursue help believable and even sympathetic. She even manages to make ChloÃ« Sevigny tolerable for her screen time, with their paling around feeling like the one authentic connection Lou has to keep her tethered to reality and the later reveals all the more isolating for Lou.
There’s also plenty of help on a story level, given Danny Perez’s efforts to showcase that her behavior is destructive and a result of her letting the environment around her collapse her potential. There’s a tragedy to Lou that’s authentic, but not excused. Her careless actions lead her to this point, but the results are still perhaps a bit too harsh. It’s the backbone that keeps Antibirth on the rails during its more experimental phases. There are plenty of odd visuals quirks that seem more metaphoric than outright story driven. Mainly, Perez seems to have a love for VHS era television quality, given the various dream sequences and TV screen inserts that are to be found. Many of them center on the basic theme of Lou’s inability to reconcile with being a mother, including a recurring visage of these weird kid’s themed bowling alley mascots and the traumatic moment of her miscarriage. All of these visuals use the limited scope of Antibirth’s budget perfectly. The inauthenticity of elements like the mascots or the dilapidated house fits the grimy atmosphere of this rural white trash small town Lou lives in, with the bizarre lifeless environment made of people trying to make money off trash mirroring her own uninhabitable womb that still somehow produces… I guess we’ll just keep calling it ‘life.’
Even the villains are under these same pressures, living in squaller to show the desperation of those involved. It’s not subtle, but it manages to be more interesting a recurring factor than the weird government conspiracy plot that comes around during the third act. We’d already had Webber and McCabe-Lokos as mysterious shady folks in the background that hit a rather personal aspect of Lou’s personal life, so the additional conspiracy element really tacks things on. This plotting emphasizes the messiness of Antibirth, showing that this experimental character study of a horror movie works best when kept smaller in scope. This is especially evident with Meg Tilly‘s character, who hovers around Lyonne to potentially have some sort of pay off as she tries to relate her message to Lou. Yet, she ultimately becomes a weird side threads that feels like a random bout of Coen Brothers style nihilism invading where it doesn’t really fit.
Still, Antibirth ended up winning me over as much as it does because it’s perplexingly engaging end note. Spoilers won’t be found here, but it’s an ending that seemingly comes out of nowhere until one realizes how built into the themes it really is. It’s the moment the visual effects artists were building towards, feeling like a sort of Troma style gory finale that keeps the tragedy of Lou’s life front and center. There’s a cliffhanger sort of ending that some horror fans may be disappointed by, but works for the sudden cruel note that befalls a life spent in excess and sloth style laziness. A note that makes Antibirth one of the more memorable curiosities of the year so far, if not an outright winner. Body horror often mines the concept of pregnancy, but Antibirth takes a much riskier attempt at the concept with a morally ambiguous protagonist and experimental term. Plus, if I have to take a pregnancy related plot in something featuring Natasha Lyonne, I’ll take this over that dumb baby subplot in Orange is the New Black any day.
Rating: (3.5 / 5)