Written and Directed by: Danny Perez
Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Chloë Sevigny, and Meg Tilly
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"I really can't be pregnant. It is not my style."
Maybe this makes me lame, but I’ve got to be honest: one of the few things in life that truly terrifies me is drug addiction. Chalk it up to being one of the last groups of kids who endured the Reagan-Bush era War on Drugs, but that shit has been ingrained in me after years of DARE programming that would have frightened any reasonable person away from so much as looking at drugs. I’m still haunted by the horrifying images of people who succumbed to addiction and wore heavily on their weary faces, and Antibirth brought those hazy memories rushing back. It’s not a film that’s about the horrors of addiction per se (it’s ultimately a bit too silly to be that), but it effectively captures the dingy, grungy horror of being trapped in a listless, small town existence, constantly at the mercy of your own unpredictable whims—or perhaps something even more mysterious and sinister, as it turns out.
Naturally, perpetual burnouts Lou (Natasha Lyonne) and Sadie (Chloe Sevigny) aren’t exactly concerned about their nights spent getting wasted at every turn. What’s more alarming to the former is that she’s showing signs of being pregnant—despite that being completely impossible. Only some hazy recollections of one particularly wild night linger: Lou knows she and her friends were hanging out with a group that also included Gabriel (Mark Allen Webber), an ex-marine who’s also into some very bizarre shit, like harvesting young girls’ urine and whatnot. Lou’s symptoms worsen as Gabriel’s exploits become shadier, his drug-dealing business escalating into something even more cryptic and lethal, sending everyone involved spiraling into a strange, conspiratorial trip.
Despite the labyrinthine nature of most conspiracy theories, director Danny Perez doesn’t weave the most complex plot out of this material. Instead, Antibirth appropriately lolls along with all the rush of a foggy-minded slacker. Whatever it’s up to isn’t immediately apparent, as Perez is content to hover about Lou and Sadie’s daily routine of shit-talking, eating, and tripping out in front of a television that’s constantly tuned into nonsense. Occasionally, they have to work or hang out at the local bowling alley, but, for the most part, this is not the most glamorous existence. It’s even less so once Sadie begins to discover just how truly creepy Gabriel is—for whatever reason, he’s always got young girls hanging around, some of them bearing scars and facial mutilations. The audience is along for the ride, always alert that something is askew without knowing quite what until the film’s final sequence—but more on that when we arrive there.
Before that point, Antibirth paints an overwhelmingly gloomy portrait in its unflinching, unflattering portrait of a small town life that has no avenues besides getting wasted. Nearly every frame of the film is soaked in grime or grit—even the patches of snow do little to conceal the unpleasant muddiness of this dingy Michigan town. Everyone lives in some kind of squalor, surrounded by graffiti-scrawled walls, trashed houses, and seedy motel. There’s a certain helplessness to this scene, a sort of unspoken insistence that everyone here is trapped—by their addiction, their life choices, their apathy.
Antibirth is almost incidentally disturbing in this respect because it’s not really about the horrors of addiction or even drugs. While the grungy atmosphere adds a menacing ambiance, the film isn’t completely bleak—in fact, there’s something endearing by how dogged Lou and Sadie are in their refusal to be completely defined by their situation. They’re fuck-ups, but they’re unrepentant fuck-ups prone to having inappropriate conversations and tripping out even when they know it’s terrible for them. A possible pregnancy doesn’t deter Lou from habits that would be called self-destructive if Perez actually treated it as such. Instead, their irreverence is eventually mirrored by the film itself once some solid plot developments begin to form from the haze to send both the characters and the audience on a strange trip right to the bizarre heart of this town’s drug scene. You come to especially feel for Lou, who’s basically that likable stoner friend you had back in high school—yeah, she’s an irresponsible mess, but she’ll be the first to tell you that, so you empathize with her.
And, man, does she go through some shit at the hands of Gabriel’s weird “experiment.” Pregnancy can be terrifying enough, and it’s magnified to its most squirm-inducing extremes here. Her initial symptoms are typical and innocuous enough, but her general queasiness graduates into a grotesque display of body horror. Somehow, her early signs impossibly grow into a full-grown pregnancy over the course of a few days, creating the kind of mystery that can only be solved by a wandering stranger who claims to have telepathic powers (Meg Tilly). Rest assured, Antibirth goes way out there, especially during a climax that unleashes all hell on everyone that crosses Lou’s path. What was once a Cronebergian exercise in paranoia (though the conspiracy theory shows Lou binges on provide a clue about her condition) and body horror escalates into a ridiculous splatter display that you can’t help but chuckle at. Perez is demented as hell—I mean, how else do you explain how a film featuring a flashback to a miscarriage—complete with an image of the fetus plopping into the toilet—eventually coaxes something approaching a delighted awe?
But that’s exactly what happens with Antibirth, a film that’s completely in tune with its stoner spirit. It’s a deranged little ramble that flits and darts from one scene to the next, seemingly without much aim until it arrives at its climax. Usually, that’d be a criticism, but the druggy energy works in Antibirth’s favor –I kind of love how it replicates what it must feel like to zone out and channel surf in a daze. At times, it feels like trying to discern some sense of purpose from a scrambled cable channel, what with its garbled montages and scatterbrained plot developments. Its dreary atmosphere instills a bummed-out panic before yielding to Perez’s unhinged whims, resulting in a concoction that feels like a young Cronenberg collaborated with Rob Zombie to produce an Xtro knock-off. Sure, the ensuing tonal whiplash comes off as feeling half-baked, but I can’t imagine a more appropriate word to describe Antibirth.
Antibirth is now available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Scream Factory and IFC Midnight. Special features include a trailer, storyboard, and a collection of psychedelic marketing shorts.
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