ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE (2018)

Antrum.jpg

Studio:      Uncork*d Entertainment
Director:    Michael Laicini, David Amito
Writer:      David Amito, Michael Laicini
Producer:  Michael Laicini, David Amito
Stars:     Nicole Tompkins, Rowan Smyth, Circus-Szalewski, Dan Istrate, Kristel Elling, Shu Sakimoto, Douglas Olsson, Hank Nae, A.J. Bond, Nathan Fleet, Assen Gadjalov

Review Score:

55.jpg

Summary:

Framed by documentary footage discussing its notoriety as a cursed film, ※Antrum§ tells a tale of two siblings digging a hole to Hell.


Synopsis:     

Review:

As one talking head puts it in faux documentary footage bookending the equally fictional feature, some consider ※Antrum§ to be the Holy Grail of underground cult cinema. How did ※Antrum§ become ※the deadliest film ever made?§

Shot in 1979, the experimental drama submitted to seven film festivals in 1983. All seven events rejected the movie. Bizarrely, several festival programmers still experienced fatal incidents following their private screenings of the film. One woman died of a seizure 24 hours after her viewing. One man was mysteriously electrocuted. Another suffered a sting from a venomous fish.

In 1988, 56 people died in Budapest when a small theater burned to the ground during an ※Antrum§ screening. Arson investigators concluded the fire didn*t start in the projection booth as they expected. Suspicious combustions spontaneously started from multiple sources in the audience.

※Antrum*s§ only other public screening was just as ill fated. 30 people were injured and a pregnant woman was trampled to death when panic engulfed a San Francisco theater in November 1993. The film mysteriously disappeared in the wake of that tragedy. It continued to exist only as an urban legend whispered about by film freaks and armchair demonologists who believed the movie possessed supernatural powers.

※Antrum§ was assumed lost forever until filmmakers documenting the deadly movie*s horrific history recovered a print at a Connecticut estate sale. Although producers present ※Antrum§ in its entirety as part of their retrospective package, they take no responsibility for whatever happens to anyone who dares to watch the possibly cursed film.

Of course, none of the above is true. It*s all part of a meta marketing gimmick that deviously doubles as a great framing device for a throwback thriller with occult overtones.

I wish I could further laud the movie*s clever conceit as imaginatively original except unfortunately, it isn*t. When the film*s first trailer revealed the premise, ※Masters of Horror§ fans immediately recognized the synopsis as echoing John Carpenter*s ※Cigarette Burns§ episode. An ※Antrum§ interviewee even name checks ※Cigarette Burns§ as an acknowledgment that ※Antrum§ co-creators Michael Laicini and David Amito are indeed familiar with the episode.

But ※Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made§ is more suspiciously similar to Fabien Delage*s 2016 French film ※Fury of the Demon§ (review here). Presented as a documentary about a supposedly cursed movie created by none other than George Melies, ※Fury of the Demon§ takes a Ken Burns approach to making make-believe appear real. Actors posing as eyewitnesses, including directors Alexandre Aja and Christophe Gans playing themselves, recount terrifying trivia about the mysteriously lost movie. ※La Rage du Demon§ was rumored to be a summoning grimoire in film form. Its few public screenings resulted in mass hysteria, trampling, and a theater fire that killed several people.

Sound familiar? ※Fury of the Demon§ even used the tagline ※the most dangerous movie of all time.§

※Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made§ differentiates itself by supposing its sought-after subject was finally found whereas ※Fury of the Demon§ remains a straight expos谷 for its full duration. Flanked on either side by 17 collective minutes of contemporary clips covering its origins, the feature film ※Antrum§ occupies the center 78 of the movie*s 95 minutes.

Transitioning into a traditional film, ※Antrum§ becomes a weird arthouse movie with foreign flavor, even though the main twosome conveniently speaks perfect English. The plot centers on siblings Nathan and Oralee. Nathan has been suffering disturbing dreams since his dog Maxine had to be put down. Because the boy has it in his head that his dog didn*t go to Heaven, Oralee thinks she can bring her brother peace by digging a hole to Hell to lay Maxine*s soul to rest. Oralee escorts Nathan to the forest where Lucifer supposedly fell to Earth and, after reciting a prayer of protection over a pentacle, the siblings start digging down. Nathan thought his nightmares were terrifying before. What he and his sister start seeing next mars their mentalities further.

※Antrum*s§ core isn*t limited to telling this tale. Documentary portions explain the print was strangely spliced with unrelated footage after entering circulation. ※Antrum§ thus puffs up its presentation with a number of subliminal &Psychorama* techniques a la ※Terror in the Haunted House§ and ※A Date with Death.§

Randomly, demonology sigils flash for a few frames or brief clips of bloody torture victims slip in for a single second. I paused on a couple of still shots here and there and caught messages that read ※Cave Ab Homine Unius Libri§ and ※Nihil Pretiosius Veritate,§ one of which was written backwards. Unless your unconscious brain knows Latin or has familiarity with Thomas Aquinas quotes, I wouldn*t worry about these novelty tricks messing with your mind too much.

What I like about Laicini and Amito*s approach though is that the occult symbology and Latin phrases, even when they aren*t immediately recognized, induce inherently arcane atmosphere. 1958*s ※My World Dies Screaming§ merely induced headaches with nonsensical insertions of skull, snake, and heart graphics. ※Antrum*s§ subliminal additions pair with the chilled tone of Nathan and Oralee*s dreamy journey to create a distinctly disturbing mood. The intangibly sinister swirl of eerily edited imagery over 1970s-style Satanism has a weird way of worming under your skin while slowly infecting your imagination.

※Antrum§ looks enough like it could have come from 1979 that suspension of disbelief can compensate for what*s lacking in that regard. Film grain and slight sepia bleaching don*t apply their retro sheens any thicker than necessary. It*s a relief to see restraint when similar endeavors eagerly go overboard in their attempts to replicate specific cinematic eras.

Nicole Tompkins and Rowan Smyth also anchor acting with effective emotion as Oralee and Nathan. Both are believable and exhibit excellent chemistry as endearing siblings you can truly come to care about.

Even with a number of prime pieces to play with, ※Antrum§ takes a wrong turn by building around a tame story that isn*t nearly as intriguing as the background bits. Laicini and Amito construct multilayered fiction hyping ※Antrum§ as an inconceivably devilish experience capable of driving a sane mind to murder. Then you find yourself watching two kids digging into dirt for minutes on end and can*t help but see how far reality is from fantasy. The main road through ※Antrum§ takes viewers on a sluggish stroll as Oralee and Nathan dig, dig, dig some more, rest, dig again, and occasionally encounter some sort of interpretive vision. Not living up to its legend at all, ※Antrum§ can*t be considered narratively satisfying, and the mystique manufactured around it doesn*t compensate with credit that unfulfilling storytelling can cash.

However, ※Antrum§ remains darkly compelling as an overall concept. The texture created by creepy content featuring a metal Baphomet monstrosity, a maniacal man copulating with a deer carcass, and intermittent flashes of fright makes for a macabre movie that is indefinably haunting and definitely weird.

Although underlying ideas accomplish a lot of what ※Antrum§ sets out to do as an unusual experience, a heartier script could have made the illusion immersive instead of undercutting it with weak centerpiece substance. ※Antrum§ settles for being vaguely unsettling when it was on the cusp of becoming blackly evil.

I still appreciate Michael Laicini and David Amito*s effort. They crafted a creatively challenging project while other indies simply swipe at fruit hanging below their knees. I might even award ※Antrum§ more points if not for the disappointing sense of d谷j角 vu delivered by paralleling ※Fury of the Demon§ almost verbatim. Traveling trodden ground definitely doesn*t do ※Antrum§ any favors.

Mentioning that movie again reminds me that my biggest beef with ※Fury of the Demon§ was that at only 60 minutes, it didn*t have enough weight to make a significant splash. Because of its bland midsection, ※Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made§ has the inverse issue of running longer than its lean legs can consistently carry it. This makes me think the ※cursed cinema documentary§ concept, as cool as it is, may not be suited for sustaining a full feature.

Review Score: 55