Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe. Rated R.
When American filmmakers transport their characters to isolated cabins in the woods, the protagonists are usually extraordinarily thick university students destined to get sliced and diced by either a serial killer or some sort of demonic force.
Watch the trailer for Antichrist.
Lars von Trier, of course, is Danish, not American, even if many of his features are theoretically set in the Land of the Free (the filmmaker’s famous fear of flying accounting for the theoretical part of this equation). Thus, the anonymous antiheroes of Antichrist are an American psychiatrist (Willem Dafoe) married to an equally nameless woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is writing her doctoral dissertation on the relationship between witchcraft and misogyny in the Middle Ages. Until very recently the father of a young son, “He” unwisely decides that one-on-one therapy in the depths of a fairy-tale forest is the only way to cure his wife of the grief that threatens to unhinge her sanity. Over time, this unfortunate couple endures various “satanic” torments, but these have only the slightest connection to the time-tawdried Evil Dead formula. They have far more to do with the director’s personal obsessions and the whole history of Scandinavian cinema.
Although Antichrist will doubtless be remembered best for its graphic sex, one horrific act of self-mutilation, and several armies of faceless women emerging from the nightmare mist or writhing in the roots of ancient trees, the film is really both a reflection on the director’s failed psychoanalysis and a 21st-century recasting of Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 silent “shocker”, Hí¤xan: Witchcraft Through the Ages. This is unfortunate, because however disturbing this film might be, it is definitely not cheaply sensational.