Writer-director Danny Perez’s feature debut is a heady horror brew, with Natasha Lyonne (Orange Is The New Black) putting in an excellent leading performance as Lou, whose life of booze, drugs and couch-time is interrupted by what would seem to be a hugely unwelcome pregnancy. But, as Lou keeps telling everyone, you have to have sex to get pregnant, so what the hell is this?
There’s a strong, grimy punk aesthetic to this confident and confrontational horror comedy, which switches gears so regularly that it may well shake off viewers who aren’t prepared to stick with it. It’s grounded in a grim and gritty Michigan winter, but Perez is prone to Gregg Araki-esuqe moments of sudden gruesomeness and heightened body horror insanity. There are sequences in which he lets his actors find the natural humour and tenderness in the scene, and others that let the more outlandish ideas run riot in a parade of monkey suits and pus.
At the centre of it all is Lyonne, who is absolutely crucial to the film’s success. She does a brilliant job of making sure that Lou keeps her sharp edges without losing her humanity, keeping somehow relatable in spite of all the increasingly horrible things happening around her and to her. She’s helped by excellent support from Chloe Sevigny (as her more grounded best friend), Mark Webber (as the skeevy local dealer/pimp) and Meg Tilly, whose kindly stranger delivers most of the film’s exposition with an odd softness that’s hugely endearing.
Antibirth is reminiscent of 80s schlock horrors like Basket Case and It’s Alive in its blend of low-budget gore, madness and social commentary, set as it is in a neighbourhood mostly populated by drug addled veterans, women who are being used as property and test subjects, and people that the government is no longer interested in helping. This does sometimes get lost in amongst the in-your-face grotesquerie, and you could argue that Perez doesn’t get the balance right, but he has succeeded in creating a hugely entertaining midnight movie with an superb performance from Lyonne at its centre.
It’s definitely not for everyone, but we’d watch it again in a heartbeat.
This is a capsule review from Fantasia International Film Festival. A longer review will run closer to the film’s release.