"It's easy to dismiss a film such as this as merely pretentious and then leave it at that but that would be to only judge it on its surface appearances"
Antichrist is possibly the most polarising film of the year and will prompt many a debate over what constitutes art and pornography, what is pretentious self-indulgence and what is glorious visual metaphor.
Firstly, a word of warning - Antichrist is the most graphic film I've seen - close-ups of sexual intercourse, brutal violence and harrowing psychological drama - this is not for the faint-hearted.
It's a film that practically embodies the term "arthouse"; if you are to take it on that level alone then Antichrist is so far up itself it could wear itself as a hat, but once you get beyond its symbolist sensibilities and allegorical framing, there's a world of psychological intrigue and a harrowing examination of loss, grief, reconciliation and descent into madness.
The film opens with the death of a child. As a couple have sex in a nearby room, their toddler escapes his playpen and tumbles out of a window. Graphic close-ups of the sexual act itself are played in slow motion, overlaid with operatic music which juxtaposes the euphoria of sex with the impending tragedy, now rendered unavoidable - we as an audience can only watch in powerless horrified fascination. This evokes a duality of feeling - pornographic self-interest and heart-stopping grief.
After this, the woman (referred to only as "she") falls into a deep depression and her husband ("he"), a psychoanalyst himself, attempts to treat her. He discovers her fear of the woods and of a place they used to visit together called "Eden", a secluded cabin. Deciding that it would be better if she faced her fears, he takes her there, where her vulnerable psychological condition threatens to give way to something entirely more horrific.
It's this psychological upheaval that forms the backbone of the film; she's torn between a desire to heal and a desire to punish herself, her subconscious fighting an uphill battle for control. And it's here where the controversial elements of the film which have been much written about start to really get into their stride. The violence that follows is raw, uncompromising and in your face - one might say a little too excessive, leg-crossingly brutal - slow camera pans and extreme close-ups serve to disorient the viewer and hammer home the film to its horrific and surreal conclusion.
It's easy to dismiss a film such as this as merely pretentious and then leave it at that but that would be to only judge it on its surface appearances. Look beneath the arthouse sensibilities and the flagrant visual metaphor and you'll find beautifully shot cinematography and a tense and involving psychological thriller that is as thought-provoking as it is shocking. It's without doubt a challenging film and one that will probably be too much for many to stomach but it's innovative, uncompromising, gripping and original cinema and for that, there can only be praise.