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Antrum #MovieReview

A young boy and girl enter the forest to dig a hole to hell. Said to be a cursed film from the late 1970s, Antrum examines the horrifying power of storytelling.

Release Date: 10-14-2018 | MPAA Rating: Not rated | Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins | Directed by: David Amito , Michael Laicini | Starring: Nicole Tompkins, Rowan Smyth, Pierluca Arancio

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Antrum Review

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. SOME SPOILERS AHEAD.

Antrum is a mockumentary-style/pseudo-found-footage horror film. The film gets a little meta, because it presents itself as a documentary about a 1970s film also called Antrum, that is supposedly very cursed–and just like the tagline says–the deadliest film ever made. Supposedly a ton of people have died shortly after screenings of the film and it was buried to prevent the evil from escaping. The directors of Antrum spoke before viewings of their film at festivals, explaining the lore of Antrum, the cursed 70s horror flick. In a way Antrum is almost a semi-interactive piece of trans-media that comes with these extra experiences, folklore, and hype. Even before watching the movie, I appreciated the way Amito and Laicini tried to reverse engineer the craze leading up to the Blair Witch Project release back in the 90s.

But, like all good deadly cult films, Antrum is available for free on Prime Video, so I had to watch it and see what that curse was all about. I joked with my fellow Sci-Fi & Scary reviewers in the Discord server that I would write the review as I watched, so that in the event of my untimely death by curse, they would be able to publish the last thing I ever wrote. And of course it’s a funny idea so I am actually going to do that. EDIT: it looks like I survived, so the editing will be slightly less bad than it would have been if I had died during the viewing.

I’ll discuss story, characters, and more technical things like the production quality, special effects, set design, etc.

STORY

The film opens with interview footage basically hammering home the point that Antrum is dangerous and people have died under questionable circumstances while watching the film. The film was submitted to film festivals and was rejected every time, which isn’t terribly surprising given the uncinematic nature of the footage shown so far. And even the festival programmers suffered fatal incidents shortly after viewing the film, so that would also explain difficulty in actually getting into those festivals.

The whole presentation is very in-your-face. No subtlety to it. But thankfully after an 8-minute introduction the “doc” transitions into a straight-up screening of the “70s film,” albeit with strange, graphic footage the presenters say was spliced into it from some unknown source. They even use a “Legal Notice” slide as a scare tactic, stating that by continuing to watch the film you acknowledge that the presenters are not liable for any injury or death that occurs during or afterward, complete with a 30-second timer to ramp up the anxiety. Not subtle.

To sum up the story of the film portion of Antrum, it’s about a boy and his dog. At the beginning the family pet is euthanized and the boy, Nathan, suffers from the traumatic experience, convinced that Maxine the dog went to hell because she was bad. The rest of the film is Nathan going with the help of his big sister, Oralee, to dig a hole to hell and save Maxine, using a spellbook supposedly given to Oralee by a creature named Ike. I’ve seen that exact leatherbound book for sale in New Age stores though, so that killed a big chunk of my suspension of disbelief. It’s definitely no Sam Raimi Necronomicon.

The main thing that bothered me is that they did nothing to make it look like the kids actually traveled into hell, so I can’t help but look at the movie as a story of two kids with ridiculously overactive imaginations running around in the woods acting like idiots. They throw themselves into a boat and shove out onto the pond at one point, acting like actual monsters are attacking them, and all I see is too kids flailing in three feet of water.

To be fair, I realized the reason for the low production value and imagined feel of the “hell” scenes was intentional. The twist at about the three-quarter mark reveals that Oralee made up the whole thing and made the spellbook herself to take Nathan on a pretend trip to hell(who does that?!) for his benefit because he was having nightmares about the dead dog in hell, which explains how terrible and teenage-doodly the artwork is. I actually appreciate this development because for a while I just assumed whoever made the props didn’t care about the quality.

But it turns out the only monsters in the woods are a couple of vaguely Eastern European dudes with a Bronze Bull statute in the shape of Baphomet (Google Bronze Bull for a fun time) who like to bang deer and cook people. No, I did not accidentally swap those two nouns.

The last 25 minutes or so of the film portion is actually pretty good. I just wish the hour before it were a little punchier. After the “ending” the interviewers return during the credits to sit you down and explain to you why you should be scared of the movie. This moment feels like the biggest failing to me. They explain that the violent reactions to the film can possibly be explained by two things, and ironically both of these things were added to the footage according to the lore, so even the filmmakers inadvertantly admit that the actual film of Antrum wasn’t that great.

They explain the concept of binaural beats, which I recommend researching for yourself because it’s an interesting topic I happen to be familiar with. But the part relevant to the film is that a tiny diference in frequency between two speakers in a stereo sound system can trigger unusual reactions in the brain, in some cases extreme anxiety. This concept is scientifically proven, although it doesn’t work on everyone(all the binaural beats I’ve tried don’t have any effect on me, in fact).

The other factor they describe is that someone placed a clear film over the frames of the movie so they could add in hand-drawn sigils, which an interviewee explains can have a serious effect on people even if they aren’t aware of the sigils they’re being exposed to. Supposedly these sigils are deeply rooted in the collective unconscious, and I find it funny that they combined occult and religious symbology with a Jungian psychological concept. Specifically, they show that a certain symbol that represents the demon Astaroth appeared 170 times in the film, and then describe a supposed historical incident where a village accidentally summoned Astaroth with these symbols and accidentally caused a mass-murder.

So to wrap up the story portion, in case the vague hint of a curse wasn’t enough to unnerve you, the filmmakers came back to tell you that you were reveiving subliminal messages the whole time and at best you were about to have a nervous breakdown and at worst you just got a demon summoned in you. I enjoy the lore of it, but I think this was terribly lazy horror writing. They literally had to explain why something was scary, and they put more work into that than they did into making the actual movie scary.

On top of that, they point out that it’s the belief in these things that makes them real and frightening, so they give you the antidote with the movie. All you have to do is not believe any of it and you’re fine. It’s clear that they probably come from the superstitious majority of Americans who can get creeped out by anything vaguely satanic, and throwing in some pretend subliminal messaging to make them think they’re not in control is enough to send them over the edge. I’m sure the filmmakers believe that this was actually really scary stuff. I just think they missed the mark for their target audience. The story of the film portion was a mess and could’ve benefited from a better edit. The mockumentary portion was the opposite of subtle and basically necessary for the film as a whole to have any hope of being scary.

I won’t deny it, I come from the south and I grew up with superstitious religious parents telling me they saw demons in my childhood home, so on a base level the “what-if” got to me just a tiny bit, but it felt cheap. It reminded me of when I was young and wimpy with horror movies and my overactive imagination could keep me looking over my shoulder in my own house after watching one. In a way it’s kind of fun to get that feeling back. But Antrum as a horror story just doesn’t feel right to me. Maybe it would’ve been better at a film festival as a communal experience with the creators giving you a little presentation beforehand. I don’t know. All I can judge is what I have in front of me.

CHARACTERS

I can’t stop thinking about how I knew kids exactly like Oralee in high school. Hell, I was super into Death Note and made myself a copy of the notebook from the show, so she’s not much edgier than I was at fourteen, and I was a dork. This edginess seems to be the bulk of her personality. I honesly don’t know how else to describe her.

Nathan is not a great child actor. He’s okay, but not great. They were really going for that 70s and 80s creepy child vibe, and they kind of got it, but I think pretty much any small child is going to be creepy in a horror movie. You don’t really get points for pulling it off.

I also keep wanting to ask “where are these kids’ parents?” and I have to remind myself it was the 70s, so that’s actually the most believable part of the movie so far. Come get your kids.

Besides Nathan and Oralee, there is a stereotypical Japanese man on screen briefly and a pair of scary men speaking an “eastern European dialect” according to the subtitles. I mention the former in the Production section and the latter in the Story seciton.

PRODUCTION

I know most people aren’t going to care about technical details, but the look of the film portion of Antrum bugs me right from the start because it looks like they took modern digital footage and ran it through a few filters to make it look like old film. Most people wouldn’t notice or care about that, but I feel like the filmmakers should have. Some of the camerawork definitely feels too modern when compared to other horrror and indie films from that time. You could slap this side-by-side with The Evil Dead or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it’d look similar, but clearly different.

I gotta flag this movie for a little casual racism too, unfortunately. At one point a middle-aged Japanese man wanders into the woods while the kids are eating lunch and strips to his boxers and tries to commit seppuku(ritual suicide by stabing yourself in the gut), but Nathan stops the man from killing himself. So two-for-one on the racism tropes. Old Japanese dude trying to die like a modern day samurai and a white savior trope. Neat.

This movie really feels like the filmmakers watched a lot of Lars Von Trier and Pier Paolo Pasolini for some twisted inspiration, but didn’t have the guts to follow through in their own film. It felt like a college film, like the kids who made this movie with their parents’ money could grow up to make some really good extreme horror movies one day, but they’re not quite there yet.

CONCLUSION

Antrum was a cute little indie horror movie, and some of the concepts were interesting, but it lacked cohesiveness or consistency where it mattered most, and its gimmick wasn’t quite enough to carry a mostly average movie all the way. I wouldn’t argue against watching this movie, unless you think that subliminal imagery stuff or the binaural beats would bother you, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of anyone’s watchlist either. If you already have Prime and it sounds like your kind of fun, go for it, but don’t go out of your way for it if it’s not your speed.

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