I don’t want to say that I’m the only fan of last year’s online-bullying slasher #horror (not only would it be a little presumptuous, I also know James enjoyed it when I made him watch it for the podcast), but I do assume I’m among a very precious few hopeless weirdos who got excited when the stars of that film, Natasha Lyonne & Chloë Sevigny, were reuniting a year later in another horror cheapie. Antibirth looked to be a repeat of the neo-psychedelia explored in their previous collaboration, a total freak-out of genre filmmaking done weird & done right. Sadly, I can’t say I was nearly as hot on Antibirth as I was in #horror. Where the Tara Subkoff film felt effortlessly strange & unnerving from beginning to end, Antibirth had to strain its resources to get itself there. The entire film feels like a pained effort to reach the unhinged intensity of its final moment, when that last minute development should have ideally been a launching point. If Antibirth were a plot for a television show it would’ve been a home run. As a standalone feature film, however, it feels like all wind-up & no pitch.
Lyonne stars as a metalhead stoner with a grimy crew of dirtbag friends, including a fellow shithead played by Sevigny. Between getting blackout drunk & chain-smoking bong rips to late night television, Lyonne’s unsuspecting, unremembering protagonist is drugged at a party & abducted for nefarious purposes. Thankfully, no onscreen sexual assault is included to spoil the mood, but Lyonne’s heavy metal wastoid does emerge from the haze of her bender to find herself pregnant. Although Antibirth does rely on pregnancy-specific modes of body horror – like the terrors of sore feet, puking, ultrasounds, and sore nipples – her struggle is conveyed as entirely supernatural. There’s a Cronenbergian element to her transformation from mind-numbed party girl to expectant mother that gets gradually, grotesquely bizarre before culminating in what’s possibly the most disgusting birth scene gore I’ve ever witnessed. The problem is that her horrific birthing trauma feels like the beginning to a story rather than an ending, which is especially disheartening considering that a lot of its lead up centered on the far less compelling antics of scumbags & dazed-out alien conspiracy theorists. If the ending of Antibirth were merely the ending of a more condensed first act, we might have something interesting here, something as bizarre as the movie seems to think it already is.
One thing Antibirth isn’t lacking is a sense of style. The film plays like a low octane reimagining of Rob Zombie taking on Death to Smoochie. Its overbearing grime, Cramps-style music cues, and knockoff Tonetta music videos (something I honestly never expected to see in a film) mixes with its Chuck E Cheese-inspired Teletubby/Sasquatch hybrids to make for a really interesting underground horror tone. There are also easily recognizable seeds of good stories in the film’s talk of extraterrestrial intuition (or “interdimensional street smarts”) and its basic idea of turning the myth that “every pregnancy is different” into its own disturbing tale of body horror. In an ideal world Natasha Lyonne & Chloë Sevigny would annually team up for a horror film just as weird & off-putting as Antibirth, maybe even a couple more with the same director (this is the debut effort of Danny Perez, who’s previously done visual collaborations with Animal Collective), but their previous outing together was far more successful. Here, I only see a few germs of good ideas without the proper follow through, emphasis heavily put on “germs”.