Antibirth feels like a horror film built from an arts and crafts box. Given that it mainly focuses on junkies, deadbeats and drug pushers it’s surprising how bright and poppy the ghastly sights can be. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising as the film is written and directed by Danny Perez who previously directed Animal Collective’s nutty visual album ODDSAC. Nevertheless this is a different beast, even if it does share some visual themes.
Natasha Lyonne headlines the cast in a rare feature film leading role. She is one of my favourite actresses, totally unique to herself with a vast explosion of curly hair that often feels like a supporting character in her movies. She’s the perfect actress to pin this kind of oddball shocker on and she makes for an engaging, likeable fuck-up protagonist. Combining all sorts of horror textures, notably body-horror, the film never really grounds itself onto any one mode of terror and hops around freely. The down side of that is that you don’t get a grasp on what the film is trying to do or how it’s trying to scare you, making it a bit of a restless 90 minutes but on the flipside you also can’t be sure where it’s heading.
Sure enough, the film is never really scary but it does indulge in the squishier delights that come with this terrain. There are fluids, boils flooding with puss and bulging, swollen bellies. It’s clear Perez isn’t actually trying to make you scream as much as he’s trying to make you squirm. As opposed to really digging into that stuff and emphasising more of the medical reality – like, say, Cronenberg – Perez instead treats his horrors like a big old mist of bong smoke. Really, it’s just an excuse to trip out in a horror milieu. Naturally, this only takes you so far but can be appealing in small doses. I can remember the colourful nightmares and the almost textile-quality of some of the special effects (hence the arts and crafts reference earlier). The film culminates in a bugged-out finale that is stupid but memorable. It just doesn’t really amount to much sadly.
I did enjoy the evocative location work though. It all unfolds in a dead-end town with trailer-park flavour. The kind of cold-chill town that always seems to have random piles of snow on the sidewalk. The cast are all game. Not just Lyonne but Chloe Sevigny as her best friend and Mark Webber as a hapless drug dealer. All the ingredients are there for a really singular freak-out but Perez never mixes them together to bring out the best. It’s fine. I just wish it went further out into the fringes earlier rather than at the last minute.