Just over 20 years ago, The Blair Witch Project mixed ‘faux documentary’ movie-making with more traditional horror story-telling. Following its success, found-footage horror took over in the 2000’s. Indie horror offering, Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made, isn’t likely to have the same impact on the genre. After all, its gimmick – a cursed movie within a movie – isn’t a genre first. John Carpenter had the same idea in his Masters of Horror episode, Cigarette Burns. Nevertheless, Antrum’s grainy 70’s aesthetics and Satanic imagery promises a creepy experience.
After the death of their dog, Oralee takes her younger brother, Nathan, out to the woods. To alleviate his fear that the dog’s soul won’t go to heaven, Oralee convinces Nathan that they’re digging a hole to Hell. And they’re digging on the very spot where Lucifer crashed to Earth. What follows is an inexplicable journey into the unknown.
Antrum is Incoherent By Design
Whether one enjoys Antrum will likely depend on what you’re expecting. Outside of its clever gimmick, directors David Amito and Michael Laicini are clearly looking to emulate a 70’s surrealist style of horror film-making. Think Suspiria or Phantasm, just less coherent. Any horror fan who has seen – and liked – Let’s Scare Jessica To Death will dig Antrum. For starters, the movie’s story barely extends beyond its threadbare premise. Little in the way of character background or motivations is explored. Nothing is explicitly detailed; very little is explained. Characters appear with seemingly little rhyme or reason. And the moving’s conclusion is ambiguous. And this is all by design. Antrum isn’t about an elaborate story; it’s intended to be an experience.
Haunting Visuals and Midnight Movie Atmosphere
As a viewing experience, Antrum succeeds at getting under your skin. Amito and Laicini get the most out of their ‘cursed movie’ gimmick. They sandwich the full ‘recovered’ movie between two ‘documentary’ sections. These segments successly establish the dangers of watching the movie as well as planting the idea that certain subliminal messages have been inexplicably added to the only existing print. Antrum goes so far as to include a warning and countdown prior to starting the ‘recovered’ film. But the real fun is in the movie itself.
Consistent with the best surrealist horror, the movie unfolds more like a nightmare than a conventional story.
Few horror directors get 1970’s low-budget horror like Rob Zombie. Now you can include Amito and Laicini in that discussion. Whether it’s the grainy picture quality, the sound effects, or editing, Antrum feels like it was dug up from a dusty archive. Don’t expect jump scares. Rather Amito and Laicini seep everything about the movie in atmosphere. And yes, you’ll need to pay close attention. In addition to frequent, quickly edited images and Latin verses appearing on screen, Antrum innocuously places things in the background and screen corners. That is, Antrum doesn’t elicit its scares from jumps. Instead, the movie subtly unnerves by forcing you to unravel what’s happening on the screen. Consistent with the best surrealist horror, the movie unfolds more like a nightmare than a conventional story.
Child Actors Lend Credibility to Film’s Premise
By and large, Antrum has sparse dialogue and only two principal actors. Both child actors – Nicole Tompkins and Rowan Smyth – are surprisingly convincing. Amidst its incomprehensible story and surreal atmosphere, Tompkins and Smyth completely convince you that they’re immersed in a hellish nightmare. In particular, Tompkins takes you on her character’s insane roller-coaster ride. If Antrum wants to convince you that its movie is real and cursed, Tompkins’ performance goes a long way to lending the premise credibility.
Antrum An Unsettling Film Experience
Given its intentionally incoherent narrative structure and unpolished aesthetics, Antrum is unlikely to find a wide audience. But indie movie succeeds in being more than just a gimmick. Similar to The Blair Witch Project, Antrum uses its ”mockumentary’ approach as a launching pad for a uniquely unsettling movie experience. Nothing really makes much sense, but that’s by design. Antrum is surrealist horror that is more about evoking a feeling than telling a ‘story’. In this regard, Antrum succeeds, perfectly plugging into that 1970’s midnight movie vibe.