Antibirth Review (Film, 2016) #31DaysofHorror
Content warning: the foundation of Afterbirth is sexual assault implied but not shown at the start of the film.
Antibirth is modern weird fiction. There’s really no other way to describe it. It’s a modern psychedelic horror film with a very loose plot connecting a lot of strange imagery meant to scare the audience. The time period is ambiguously modern—the characters talk like they’re current but the town they live in is behind the times, complete with wood panel tube tubes—and there’s not much logic to the story. The film gets away with it, too, since writer/director Danny Perez sets his protagonist as a drug addict and an alcoholic.
Natasha Lyonne stars as Lou, a woman who wakes up from a wild party with all the major signifiers of pregnancy but no actual means to go to a doctor and confirm it. She’s also a heavy addict and alcoholic who refuses to step away from anything she’s doing just because she might be pregnant. Only her best friend Sadie, played by Chloe Sevigny, takes her seriously. Everyone else either doesn’t believe her because she’s a junkie or knows people won’t believe her because she’s a junkie and choose not to help her.
Weird is the best word for Antibirth. It’s part body horror, part alien invasion film, part indie character study, part dark comedy, and part addiction drama. There’s no logical flow of information because no one in the film is a reliable narrator. Everyone is aware of the drug problems in the town, because seemingly everyone in the town is on drugs. Lou describes the town as “sticky,” collecting anyone who passes by. Any logical explanation is implied through commercials and programs playing on the outdated TVs and the rants of drifters and drunks.
The cast is the glue that holds this film together. Lyone and Sevigny are joined by Meg Tilly, a mysterious woman who pops in and out of the lives of everyone in the film, for a kind of film that doesn’t usually trade in Academy Award or Emmy Award-nominated actors. Every scene is utterly compelling and makes sense in the moment because of the quality of acting. Then the next scene betrays everything you thought you knew and also feels totally believable and logical in the moment. The cast holds what’s essentially nonsense together.
Is Antibirth particularly scary? No. It’s eerie and tense, but not particularly scary. The film commits to this bizarre spin on the universe and grounds it in imagery that feels familiar even though it doesn’t logically make sense together. The crocheted granny square blankets and tube TVs make sense, but not in a world where the characters talk and act the way they do. The film is intentionally unbalanced to disorient and distract from a plot that doesn’t really do much.
What we have is a pregnancy horror film where the pregnancy is pretty irrelevant to the overall story. Yes, Lou is pregnant. Yes, the fetus develops far faster than it should—a matter of days before Lou shows, and maybe a week before she looks like she’s ready to give birth at any moment—but that pales in comparison to the physical side effects of whatever was done to Lou. They’re wisely coded in medical side effects that could be explained away by drug abuse or even an STI, but the film never lets that doubt last because it doesn’t back away from Lou being pregnant. It’s the best and worst combination of elements to create a strange and believable universe.
Antibirth is experimental horror. It’s hard to put a label of “good” or “bad” on a film that isn’t exactly trying to play by the normal rules of cinema. Enough is happening in every scene to keep you interested. The visual language of the film is a lot to dig through and analyze in the best way possible. The performances add a wonderful, grounded sense of immediacy to a fever dream of weird fiction. Good? Bad? Irrelevant. Antibirth is what it is.
Antibirth is currently streaming on Netflix.
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