Antibirth. 2016. Directed & Written by Danny Perez.
Starring Natasha Lyonne, Chloë Sevigny, Meg Tilly, Mark Webber, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Emmanuel Kabongo, Neville Edwards, Morgan Bedard, Carey Pascall, Lili Francks, Marie-Josee Dionne, Jessica Greco, Kevin Hoffman, Chad Gibbons, & Spider Allen. Traverse Media/Hideaway Pictures/Culmination Productions.
Not Rated. 94 minutes.
There are weird, oddball movies. Then there are out of this world fucked up movies, too. You can either go with the flow sometimes, or else perish in the wake of their strangeness. Antibirth is of the latter category; a movie on such a mission to mess with your head that it doesn’t always feel totally sure of itself. A lot of negative reviews have cropped up, which doesn’t exactly surprise me. Although part of me likes certain stuff writer-director Danny Perez tries to accomplish, I’m not completely out to lunch – some of this is plain poorly executed and downright bad.
Natasha Lyonne gets to play a unique part. We’re not often given such a nasty, nerve-rattling depiction of a free spirited woman undergoing a terrifying experience of pregnancy as Perez writes for her here.
Something like Rosemary’s Baby plays into the idea of pregnancy in a much more Satanic way while Antibirth is like a feverish mix of Sid and Nancy with David Cronenberg. There are moments of horror greatness, uneasy scenes where you can just about feel your own body shying away from what’s happening onscreen. However, and unfortunately, those pieces don’t get you too far.
After awhile I lost interest in exactly what was going to happen because of how overextended the screenplay felt. Too many things happening without the quality to keep them compelling. Lyonne does nice work, another bad girl role that fits her perfectly. She kept me glued to her performance. There’s nothing much else to put this over the top. I wanted to like Perez’s film. The weirdness wasn’t off-putting, it felt more fun, and gross in the way us horror freaks love. But the promise was only that: a promise. Without a pay off. Or without a pay off worth the journey we’re meant to undertake with Lyonne’s character.
I truly enjoy body horror as a sub-genre. Cronenberg is, of course, the master. There are others who’ve dipped into those nasty waters. For all this film’s faults, Perez manages to do some effective work in this arena. Why I find body horror so great is because, when used correctly, it can work well with bigger ideas. From The Fly‘s questions of man’s pursuit of knowledge and how it can affect a person, to The Brood tapping into all sorts of ideas including, like Perez’s film, that of motherhood. So what Perez does well, in his best moments, is use the visceral aspect of the sub-genre in order to gross us out. Moreover, he hammers home the fear of motherhood, the terrors some mothers go through. In an interview, Perez discusses how we more often than not see a stereotypical vision of pregnancy as a happy mother, everything’s great.
In opposition, Antibirth depicts impending motherhood as a science-fiction-esque experience. You could try to make a point for Perez attempting to make this a metaphor of some kind. Not sure exactly how far you’d get, but you might be able to try. Nevertheless, if you simply take this as an overall depiction of pregnancy as something horrific instead of beautiful, then it works. There are several screenplay concepts jammed into one here. Perhaps if Perez had stuck more strictly to one concept the entire thing would work incredibly well as that metaphorical vision of motherhood. Without a strong, coherent screenplay, he loses something in the last half hour that mars his better ideas. What kept me interested is the sheer madness of the body horror. By the final shots, I was in awe of what I’d seen.
One thing I absolutely love is the music. There’s nothing like an already acid trip-style movie with a heavy, psychedelic soundtrack and score on top. The various dark compositions throughout are courtesy of Eric Copeland and Jonathan J.K. Kanakis. There’s even times where the score melts into the soundtrack, specifically the scene where Lou (Lyonne) describes her fateful night to Sadie (Chloë Sevigny) and the bumping music turns into the band playing at a club. Other than that you can find a handful of interesting moments like that, which makes a solid score even better.
Lyonne is obviously the biggest part of the film. Her character gets pregnant, fast and vicious. Not only is it an emotional headspace in which she has to get, there’s also that body horror. So Lyonne’s got the sort of greasy junkie act down while still not falling into the same character as the one she plays on Orange is the New Black. Here, Lou isn’t exactly a lovable character by any means. The acting makes her worthy of your empathy, though, as we’re along for the hideous ride of her pregnancy and feel just as terrified as she does. Lots of impossibly weird moments, especially closer to the end. And no matter how out there the whole thing gets, Lyonne manages to keep the character grounded at least.
I can’t recommend this to anybody. More of a novelty film, like certain other grossout horrors across many sub-genres. Definitely if you’re looking for body horror, this is not one of the titles I’d jump at first. Not even second, third, or thirteenth. Try Cronenberg, the more recent indie flick Bite, or any number of other movies.
Perez gives it a shot, only to fall mostly flat. Lyonne’s the best part of it and gives us a fun headtripping performance. Apart from her enjoyable bits, nothing else will wow you. The effects are decent at times. The ending has a neat creature. Just don’t expect a whole lot more, or else be sorely disappointed.