Summary: Antichrist is Lars von Triers' visual allegory of the long battle of the sexes, maybe, blending horror imagery with nature cinematography. It can be a beat bloated in places, a little too slick in others, but the scenes that work work so well that you feel a sense of disquiet. This is not a full review, but just sort of a briefish musing.
Across several blogs, and a few recent conversations, a number of people have mentioned Antichrist, and so I figured I'd give it a watch. It's a 2009 movie, starring just two speaking-role actors—Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsborough—and deals with a number of hard topics: the death of a child, life and birth, the place of females in society, females in nature, decay and birth, sexual passion and destruction, historical treatment of women, and obsession. After the death of their child, an unnamed couple retreat into the woods, to a cabin called Eden.
Dafoe's character, I'll call him "Adam" rather than by the actor's name, is therapist who is convinced he knows what is best for his so stricken by grief and fear she is going insane wife, played by Gainsborough ("Eve"). It starts off with Adam being the stereotypically overbearing male, locking his wife away from another male therapist, in what seems a bald homage/pastiche and commentary on "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Jane Eyre, and then, as she becomes more confrontational, taking her out to face her greatest fear: the woods around Eden. He plays authentic, but a bit cold and maybe even sadistic, therapy games with her. Forcing her to interact with the places she is afraid of, to dig up her memories. As she starts to improve, and we start to get more glimpses into Adam's own problems; Eve is found to be a lot worse at the core than expected and the audience watches as mutilation follows mutilation, climaxing in scenes of strange imagery and "horror" mysticism.
Speaking of, the movie gets called horror a lot. That's not quite true. It has direct homages to horror, and has some pretty gruesome scenery—Adam wakes up with ticks on the back of his hand, he witnesses a deer in the middle of giving some aborted birth, a fox eating eating its own rotting flesh, dead bodies laying around, and the aforementioned mutilation scenes—but they are not meant to invoke fear but more...unease. These are scenes of feeling out of place, subversion and natural irony prevail. It is motifs of horror reconfigured to be about an emotion much like fear, but not quite. Sort of anger, but not that either. You have really rough scenes, but you also have really rough conversations about the nature of evil and the nature of femininity, where the same guy who saw nothing wrong with taking away his wife's freedoms suddenly criticizes historical examples of the same. And little moments of weirdness, of badness, only add to total disjointedness.
It has some great shots, some great moments, and combinations of elements such as only two characters having dialogue and the inclusion of unsimulated sex [I assume, but it looks like pretty honest genital on genital action to me] make it a bold movie, but it for every thing it does just right, it does an equal measure patently wrong. Too often the slow motion used to invoke weirdness feels like a crutch, motifs meant to contrast birth and falling (e.g. acorns falling from the oak) get used so much as to derail impact, and a couple of the most affective scenes—a genital mutilation scene that is cited by some as being the heavy hitter, as well as a scene involving copulation on the ground with bodies laying around—have an obvious cut away that shouts "THIS IS A FILM!". There probably isn't a single scene in the movie that could not have benefited from tightening and a scene with a fox should probably have been excised entirely. Still, you would have to lie to say it did not disturb you a little, even if the final scene makes you go, "What the hell?".
I won't rank it above a Fair right now, but I will watch the materials on the second DVD from the Criterion edition. I like the genre of slow, building, conscious semi-horror; but I'm not sure if this quite the best representative. Now, my favorite trailer (out of the three that I have seen)...