MUST BE SOMETHING YOU GESTATE
Director: Danny Perez
Screenplay: Danny Perez
Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Chloë Sevigny, Meg Tilly
Review: David Stephens
“Pregnancy-Horror” definitely seems to be a well-established sub-genre now. After all, it’s a body “transformation” that an extremely large percentage of the world’s population can readily identify with. Even men are exposed to it to some extent, with stuff like the chest-burster in the “Alien” films, “Bad Milo” (with his dubious exit strategy) and … err … Schwarzenegger in “Junior” (well … it was a “horror” to us). Of course the classic “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) is the perfect culmination for this type of subject, but the recent “Prevenge” (one of our favourite releases so far this year) from the genuinely pregnant Alice Lowe has also set the bar high. It all distils to the one horrible idea really; as an expectant mother, will you give birth to what you expect? Other modern horrors like “Delivery: The Beast Within” (2013) and “Devil’s Due” (2014) have exploited that concept (both coincidentally with found-footage). But here we have “Antibirth”, a post-modern warped story about a supposed “immaculate conception”. It’s written and directed by Danny Perez, and stars Natasha Lyonne (“Blade: Trinity”, “Yoga Hosers”, etc), along with Chloë Sevigny (“American Psycho”, “Zodiac”, etc) and Meg Tilly (“Psycho II”, “Body Snatchers”, etc). After several showings at major film festivals last year (including Sundance, Dead by Dawn, and TIFF), the film is now available on DVD and VOD on both sides of the pond. So YGROY gingerly walks into the local chemist, but only ends up with a tube of toothpaste (because there was an attractive woman behind the counter), before watching the movie…
It starts with a slo-mo rave in a dilapidated industrial estate, with Lou (Lyonne) partying hard and one-step away from unconsciousness. Like so many other nights she blacks-out and is taken home by her best friend Sadie (Sevigny). However, shortly afterwards Lou pays a visit to the local animal vet (?!) because she’s not feeling so good. Yeah, she has her face constantly glued to a bong, she chain-smokes, and she drinks constantly … but this feels worse than a bad hangover or comedown. Whilst the vet entertains the notion that she could possibly be with child, Lou’s having none of it (“I really can’t be pregnant. It’s not my style”). Plus the fact that she’s pretty sure that she hasn’t had sex since forever. But despite carrying on with the drugs and drinking, she can’t ignore her increasingly swelling belly. And there’s also the extreme sickness, pus-filled blisters, and peeling dark skin to contend with. So when Lou meets ex-military woman Lorna (Tilly) at the motel where she (barely) works at, she finally resolves to find out exactly what’s happening to her, and who did the dirty deed….
In some respects, “Antibirth” feels like something that David Cronenberg might produce if he had overdosed on a combination of bath-salts and an energy-drink. And given that we’re talking about Cronenberg here, that might give you an idea on just how trippy/freaky this offering is. The run-down locations used (the less salubrious areas of Ontario, Canada … hence the constant snow) give it an almost post-apocalypse feel, despite all the recognisable lower-end-of-society tropes. And everybody lives in grungy apartments or visits filthy clubs. It’s given a more surreal feel also by the weird “Robocop”-type adverts that constantly play on TV, or the “family” establishment that employs multi-coloured Bigfoot with sex-doll heads as their mascots!
And pretty much every character (bar one) is an undeniable douche-bag, who only lives for themselves or the next party/score. This makes it particularly hard to warm to most of them, Lou in particular given that she’s the lead character in peril. Lyonne (who also produced the film) plays her part well (channelling some of her more colourful history perhaps?), but given this is a person who rubs her stomach against a sparking microwave in a jokey attempt to give her child super-powers, or uses duct tape and toilet paper as a bandage, it’s hard to give a damn about her in all honesty. “I can’t even take care of myself. Let alone some weird immaculate conception shit”. Quite.
Given as some of the other characters consist of the uncaring Sadie and the scumbag Gabriel (played by Mark Webber, note the ironic character name), it’s a bit of a substantial challenge to get emotionally involved, so instead we watch as they troll around the town and have random conversations on the likes of personal grooming and 80’s TV show “Manimal” (yes, really!). So the presence of a nigh-on unrecognisable Tilly as the well-meaning Lorna (“…with interdimensional street smarts”) is something of a relief, and brings some much needed heart to the mix. Some of her monologue scenes invoke her old intensity from films like “Body Snatchers” (1993) as well, which is never a bad thing.
It’s a fair way into the narrative until we really get into the out-and-out genre element of the story, but as Lou starts to get “bad skin” (fans of those inexplicably popular “blister-popping” videos on YouTube will be over the moon during one scene) and the occasional vision about what may have happened to her, the film starts its slide into utterly nutzoid territory.
The several conspiracy theories that have been teased throughout the plot are coalesced into a (almost incomprehensible) solution come the denouement. And boy, is it an absolute doozy! Some completely unexpected (and totally mad) body-horror material is flung at the screen with some real enthusiasm, accompanied by some visuals and ideas that might make Lloyd Kaufman think he’d gone a bit too far if it was in one of his Troma films! In fact, the “15” certificate that the UK DVD is rated with, is a little surprisingly in light of that. Maybe the BBFC thought it was just too ridiculous to take seriously. Mind you, it does feel appropriate and makes up for the lack of incident in the early parts of the film. Suffice to say, there are bloody tips of the hat to more than one classic horror moment, and it’s pretty jaw-dropping in its gruesome flamboyance.
As a result, it’s a slightly schizophrenic experience in some respects. The stoner characters and the more overtly psychedelic elements may grate a little in the early phases, but the introduction of Tilly and the outrageous body-horror compensates for that. And you’re pretty unlikely to see a more genuinely twisted and screwed-up finale in any other film this year. So for those reasons, it’s worth the conception of some time to take delivery of this little one. For God’s sake don’t breast-feed though!
DVD Extras: Phantom pregnancy. Just a trailer.
“Antibirth” is a weird, grungy, mumblecore of a body-horror movie. Initially the plot annoyingly meanders about, concentrating on dislikeable drug-addled characters wandering around in a surreal environment. But it finally comes together in an insanely bat-shit crazy finale that defies belief and taste.
For that (and Tilly’s endearing performance) it’s worth checking out.