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AFF preview: Thoughts on Antichrist

“What do you think is supposed to happen in the woods?"

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So, I’ve seen the most controversial movie of the year. TIFF bigwig Cameron Bailey said the Danish director of Antichrist “isn’t trying to shock or offend,” with his “very personal film,” but I’d dispute that. Lars von Trier is a shit-disturber. He helped found the Dogma cinematic movement, both a rigorous aesthetic and a genius way to draw international attention to very low-budget filmmaking from a country which at that point was not well-known for its film industry.

Every one of von Trier’s films, going back to Breaking the Waves, is calculated to evoke strong emotions in its audience. Antichrist provoked a few in me, but primary throughout was a growing sense of disquiet. It's a horror film, a gradual, creepy one, that only occasionally goes for explicit and visceral shock value. But for one particularly unpleasant scene of self-mutilation, I didn’t feel I needed to scrub my eyeballs with bleach the way I did after, say, David Cronenberg’s Crash, Gaspar Noë’s Irreversible, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream or much of Todd Solondz’s work. I was much more upset having seen von Trier's Dancer in the Dark than I was here.

But the visuals have stayed with me. It’s a difficult film, one that deserves many of the descriptive adjectives—both the positive and negative—it’s earned since it screened at Cannes. But is it worth seeing at least once? Sure. Make up your own mind whether this poisonous return to the Garden of Eden is something that moves you, then come have a chat with me afterward. Antichrist screens on Friday night at the Atlantic Film Festival.

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