If, for some reason, there was a screening of the cursed film from Ringu, or its American remake, The Ring, would you go and watch it? Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made posits that you would and, moreover, the filmmakers take the choice out of viewers’ hands by foisting the supposed cursed film upon them about ten minutes into the feature. I watch, essentially, nothing but horror and, reader, I was shook.
When the time came to actually experience Antrum itself, I hesitated, pausing for a moment to take a quick glance at t’internets and ensure other critics had seen it and lived to tell the tale. I make this point not to showcase how gullible I am, or to call upon the vengeance of evil spirits, Final Destination-style, to take me now (though, if I did die as a result of watching a cursed movie, it’d be entirely fitting) but to emphasize the power of this incredibly effective film.
Antrum kicks off mockumentary-style, with a variety of genre-specific talking heads (predominantly male and white, annoyingly) discussing this supposed cursed film, its ability to doom the select few who have actually had the opportunity to watch it, and the tortured history of its production. Aside from being very cleverly done, and hugely convincing, this section is well-presented (the subtitles recall the classic Halloween font), genuinely interesting, and, crucially, it builds some serious tension surrounding the film.
The story then abruptly switches gears as it’s revealed we are about to watch Antrum. A warning pops up onscreen, a waiver of sorts, which puts the responsibility for whatever happens next on the viewer rather than the filmmakers themselves. What’s come before is so convincing that it does give one pause. Thankfully, the film that follows is more than worthy of the hyperbolic introduction; a chilly, disconcerting seventies throwback with touches of Don’t Look Now, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and, obviously, The Wicker Man.
The film stock is grainy and sun-drenched, while the period detailing on the two protagonists (a brother and sister who are enthusiastically digging a hole to hell in the forest so they can see their beloved dead dog again) is spot on. There isn’t a dodgy moment in sight, either to give away that this isn’t actually a cursed film from a bygone era, lost to the sands of time, or even that it was made recently.
Irish viewers will get a kick out of how Antrim is a lovely place up north where, funnily enough, this could’ve been filmed given the lush surrounding countryside. That’s not to say Antrim still looks like it’s stuck in the 1970s, but…you know. The forest itself is a terrific setting, both cozy and familiar yet simultaneously labyrinthine and impossible to decipher. The kids play make believe while the camera slowly zooms out to reveal a decaying body, consistently emphasizing the juxtaposition between the beauty and horror of nature.
Both kids are great and certainly have a European air to them with their perfect Aryan looks, which adds another layer to the film’s weird atmosphere. The young actors are unaffected, committing entirely but never overplaying the danger because, well, their characters are kids and they don’t get it until it’s too late. Early in Antrum, we’re advised that horrifying and demonic images were inter-spliced over the footage and the flick has serious re-watch potential for those looking to spot all 100-odd shots. Suffice to say, several are profoundly creepy. One, in particular, is held just a couple seconds too long and is genuinely bone-chilling as a result – you’ll be begging to look away.
Antrum is pure folk horror eeriness, right down to the brilliantly off kilter score, and has the potential to be a major cult hit, given its ingenious hook. Evocative, provocative, and deliciously, devilishly dark, this is one of the most impressive horror movies of recent years, made even more astonishing by the fact it’s courtesy of a couple newcomers in the form of writer-directors David Amito and Michael Laicini (I’m already impatient for whatever they do next). A must see, provided you’re brave enough to make it past that all-important warning notice.
WICKED RATING: 9/10
Director(s): David Amito, Michael Laicini
Writer(s): David Amito, Michael Laicini
Stars: Rowan Smyth, Nicole Topkins
Release date: November 5, 2019 (Digital and DVD)
Studio/Production Company: Else Films
Run Time: 95 minutes