Antibirth
Shout Factory // Unrated // $12.99 // February 7, 2017
Review by Tyler Foster | posted March 4, 2017
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For many, horror is an easy route into a love of movies. They promise bold spectacle and visceral thrills, are good for party and crowd settings, and often provide an ironic entertainment value even if they turn out to be underwhelming. Later, as one develops a deeper appreciation for filmmaking, while those things are more or less still true, the value of horror shifts to its ability to tap into communal and shared anxieties, and possibly its ability to transform those anxieties into more literal monsters through the use of metaphor. The downside of this insight is, you quickly realize how many horror films fail to do this, and most of the recent crop of buzzy indie horror hits (*cough* It Follows *cough) have failed to fully finish that journey from anxiety to metaphor. The latest example: Danny Perez's Antibirth.

Lou (Natasha Lyonne) is more than just a party animal -- as the film begins, it's possible she hasn't been completely sober for at least 72 hours straight. She hits up clubs and underground meet-ups with her slightly less burned-out friend Sadie (Chloe Sevigny), and picks up a shift at a local fleabag motel once in a blue moon to refill her weed and booze budget. Today, she doesn't feel so hot, but it's not for the normal reasons: her breasts hurt, she's nauseous in the morning, and her stomach feels strange. She's certain she hasn't had sex with anyone in at least six months, but before long, her belly is bulging and she's even beginning to lactate. Yet, if that wasn't bad enough, she quickly gets a sense that there's something about this baby that isn't quite right, fears which are stoked by a strange woman named Lorna (Meg Tilly) who has suspicions the government or military may be after her newborn for top secret reasons.

Now, look, I'm just speculating here -- no doubt the film's cast had some input on the execution of the film -- but it feels like it has to be noted that this movie, so rooted in the terror of pregnancy, lists a stunning 21 male executive and co-executive producers (out of 23) after Perez's credit, with Lyonne and Lee Broda being the two exceptions among them. Obviously, it's not impossible for a room full of men to create something that effectively conveys whatever horror there is to pregnancy (and I'm certainly not saying there couldn't be horror in pregnancy -- the idea of pregnancy as body horror is a potent one), but it feels a little suspect, especially when Perez's script mixes that horror with the horror of sexual assault or consent issues, and eventually (likely not intentionally) pins those events on Lou's drinking and drug use. Lou may be enough of a wreck to question her lifestyle in and of itself, but there is also a thoughtlessness to the way the film turns her unwanted pregnancy into a joke about the condition of her body at the end of the film.

Beyond a muddled metaphor, Perez's script has other, more basic problems, including being unnecessarily cluttered. Too much time is spent on a drug business run by low-level pimp Gabriel (Mark Webber) for how little of it makes meaningful sense (although it is somewhat important to the story), and although it's great to see Tilly on screen, it's hard to see exactly how Lorna fits into the story beyond Lou needing a character around to help her out when Sadie is busy. For about half the film, Perez goes for a hallucinatory, surreal vibe that obscures details mostly for the sake of obscuring them (is there any reason the details of what happens to Lou that sets the film in motion are kept secret if the movie's climactic reveal would still be a surprise?). It's occasionally effective in disorienting the audience in the same way that Lou is disoriented, but it also serves to make the film feel long even at only 95 minutes.

If there's a bright spot in the movie, it's Lyonne, who delivers a performance in the first half that belongs up there with Anna Faris' transcendent turn in Smiley Face as one of the most committed depictions of someone completely stoned out of their mind I've ever seen. At times, she'll interrupt her own sentences to take a bong hit, and manages to project a bit of offense that her co-worker doesn't want to eat left-over pizza found in the remnants of a hotel room bachelor party. As the film segues into a more conventional, less cracked-out structure, she keeps the old Lou present while displaying a bit more coherency as she tries to solve the mystery of what's happening to her. Sadly, it culminates in an ending that's all to indicative of the downside of horror: too much emphasis on things that are designed to shock or gross the viewer out than saying anything frighteningly familiar.

The Blu-ray
Antibirth comes to Blu-ray with two very cool illustrated poster designs on a double-sided sleeve. The "standard" artwork depicts an upside-down skull with bleeding eye sockets inside the silhouette of a woman's midsection, while the other is an image of Lyonne's face, surrounded by hands, from a hallucinatory dream that occurs in the film. The two-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case that houses the Blu-ray and DVD copy, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Antibirth's 1.85:1 1080p AVC and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation is as strong as one would expect from a modern feature film. Fine detail is good, colors are very strong, black levels appear accurate, and there are no issues with banding or compression (as the disc has little in the way of supplemental content). Really, the disc arguably shines more in the sound department, what with the hallucinatory, supernatural effects of Lou's unexpected condition creating all sorts of weird warping and echoing effects through sequences of distorted memory and surreal flashbacks. These sequences surround and envelop the viewer, drawing them down into Lou's nightmare. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.

The Extras
There are no real behind-the-scenes extras on the disc. "Promotional Marketing Shorts" (3:05) consist of material that appears on televisions in the finished film -- parody commercials and fictional public access programming -- done up as viral marketing. There are also Storyboards (10:00), which cover a single sequence, the film's climax. There are some minor differences between the sequence as boarded and the finished film, not to mention a "cameo" in the form of a celebrity photo (which I wonder if anyone cleared) that appears on a character's "grotesque mask."

Trailers for The Autopsy of Jane Doe, The Devil's Dolls, and I Am Not a Serial Killer play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Antibirth is also included.

Conclusion
Antibirth has a strong roster of talent in front of the camera, but the screenplay they're working from lets everyone down. It's a big stew of half-baked ideas about pregnancy horror rather than an actual coherent thematic point or arc. Skip it.



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