Buried Alive Film Fest 2019: Antrum
Director: David Amito & Michael Laicini
Screenplay by: David Amito / Story by: David Amito & Michael Laicini
Starring: Rowan Smyth, Nicole Tompkins
A young boy and girl enter the forest to dig a hole to hell. Said to be a cursed film from the late 1970s, Antrum examines the horrifying power of storytelling.
Initial Reaction K. Presented as a long lost cult film responsible for the deaths of nearly everyone who’s ever seen it, Antrum is shrouded in mystery as “The Deadliest Movie Ever Made”, or so we’re told. A documentary style preamble sets up the various infamous incidents (a fire in one theater, a riot in another) that cement the film’s legendary status. Then something unexpected happens… ...we’re presented with the film itself. This transition was surprising as the film’s trailer frames it as a film about Antrum, rather than the film itself. This set the bar pretty high for the filmmakers to live up to the mystery surrounding the film. As we all know the “scariest _____” can be a very difficult title to live up to, especially when the audience’s imagination has the tendency to be much more frightening than anything fiction can conjure. That said, I believe the filmmakers succeed in creating an effectively eerie tone throughout with the music, cinematography and sound design. The documentary introduction also prepares the audience for an arthouse/exploitation experience justifying the more esoteric artistic choices made when we transition to the fictional film. The film tells the story of a young boy, Nathan (Rowan Smyth) and his older sister, Oralee (Nicole Tompkins) who dig a hole in the forest to save their recently departed dog from hell. As the two dig deeper they descend down through the various layers of hell and the forest grows ever more dangerous. The film makes great use of its limited budget and scope here by subtly crafting scares with figures that appear just on the edge of frame. The two leads, Rowan and Nicole Tompkins, do a wonderful job of grounding the film. They are relatable and believable as siblings. The aesthetic is that of a late 1970s exploitation film, like a marriage between The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Evil Dead, without being overly derivative. (There’s also a nice nod to Mulholland Drive -- ‘Ike behind the diner’). But, is it “The Deadliest Movie Ever Made”, you ask? No, but what could possibly live up to that title. Modern audiences are too savvy to fall for the whole lost film trick, but it is an effective prologue to the film itself and a unique way of presenting it to the world. I found it to be creepy more than scary, which is not a bad thing, and very well-acted. This made it an enjoyable and interesting watch, so I would definitely recommend it. C. In one way or another Antrum set itself up for failure because of its (for lack of a better term) gimmick. This doesn’t mean that it’s bad. On the contrary it has provided the film a lot of hype within the horror community. However, it opens itself up for certain criticisms that would have been ignored prior.
First, I’ll say I enjoyed it very much by itself without the “cursed” film history or the added element that someone spliced images from a snuff film into the film print. If you took it as an homage to the cult-inspired films of the late 70s in the same vein of Ti West’s The House of the Devil it works great. I found myself at the edge of my seat, the actors were strong, solid use of imagery/symbolism on a low budget. It’s a solid piece in my opinion. But I feel you’ll only enjoy it if you’re along for the ride I just described, because a lot of the issues rely on the believability that it was shot in the 1970s. I’ll give it to you straight. It wasn’t, and even if I didn’t say it, you’d know. Across the board there are choices in terms of cinematography, filters, dialogue, style, that even your standard audience member would notice that it feels modern. In terms of the technical aspects I think they accomplished the best they could with their resources but this is where the issue of the gimmick begins to hinder the film.
As I’ve already mentioned there’s two major gimmicks, the cursed film and the random snuff film spliced within the movie. Oh, and let’s not forget the countless subliminal symbols that the editor went crazy with putting in. The best way to describe the feeling I had was being in art class as a kid and you draw a decent picture. Then you start thinking, “maybe I should use markers”, then “how about adding paint?”, then “I’m going to add some collage elements.” Ultimately you find yourself wishing you stuck with the original drawing and spent time fine tuning that instead of adding all these other elements to be “extra” (as the kids say… I think). Again, I’m saying this as a person who enjoyed it a lot. Yet I can understand the problematic nature that the filmmakers put themselves in. Audiences are smarter to that stuff and unlike with the initial release of The Blair Witch Project, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or Cannibal Holocaust, we have the internet to quickly disprove it. Also, those films knocked it out of the park with something that (at the time) hadn’t really been seen. The other issue is the opening short documentary has one of the experts saying that the film isn’t necessarily that scary, it’s just “cursed,” so even before the film officially starts, we are basically told to lower our expectations. That means the film is based around the gimmick that you may die if you watch it and nothing more. Which is sad that even the filmmakers aren’t willing to let their piece stand on its own. Instead it may become something that will be dated and dismissed after the initial response of “you could die if you watch this.” J. Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made...except that clever marketing bit set the bar a little high in my view. The film had to have cost around a hundred dollars to make and therefore doesn’t really show much of anything in terms of the supernatural. I think this works to their advantage but when we do see something, some money going into it would’ve helped things. The music and sound design go along way to making this more effective than it should be and the late 70’s aesthetic works well. There isn’t much in the way of a plot so take that however you like. It’s also somewhat confusing too which is astounding given the utterly simple nature of what’s going on. You see shots edited into the film that look like they’re from a completely different film and just kind of leaves you scratching your head as to what the intent was. At one point during the night, the kid, Nathan, has to take a piss. So what do you do, camping in the woods but go find a spot and piss. As he’s doing this, he sees a pond where there is a man and woman in a small boat. Now, it’s who-knows-what-time in the night and also, the woman is naked. What the hell is this about? We never see these people again or know if they’re even real or supernatural or what the hell. See, another thing is that the sister tells Nathan that hell will put “demons” in their way but they may look like real people. So are we to believe this is the case? I’m not really sure. There’s another bit where there is a stop motion animation squirrel that has got to be a fucking demon with how unnerviing the stop motion is. As the story goes on, there is a nice bit where we wonder how much of what is happening (the supernatural stuff) is real or imagined and it comes in a rather subtle way too which was nice. The filmmakers do what they can with how little money was used in the production and I think it all works fairly well. It just isn’t all that scary and the fact that they’re calling it “The Deadliest Film Ever Made” doesn’t help matters. Response C. I thought using the title of The Deadliest Film Ever Made was in regard to the fact that those that watched the film died and not that it was scary. Either way I agree with the other two that it isn’t that scary. I won’t say much to give anything away but there’s also very little plot involved so I don’t know if it would matter. Despite its initial symbolism-over-narrative storytelling and delving into the meandering of mumblecore, I will say that I did enjoy the realism added midway through that grounded the story a little better in the characters. Though it didn’t really have me thinking about it after or was cause for much discussion. Mainly I was conflicted on the quality of the film vs. the image for marketing purposes. In the end I’d say check it out. I think it will be one that is recommended sparingly to only those that you know would enjoy it. It definitely won’t be for the standard horror fan, which I’d back Kyle’s arthouse comment. Or maybe it will live on as something that teenagers dare each other to watch like The Ring. Either way I’m curious what the filmmakers have in store for us next. K. Yes, this is definitely not the scariest, or even the most overtly horror. I don’t think the filmmakers were trying to really convince us that it was a genuine film from the 1970s, that would easily be disproven with one’s eyes or their iPhone. It seemed like a way to justify that 1970s aesthetic which was one of the most effective things in the film. As for the marketing scheme, we’ve all noted it was setting the bar way too high (basically the highest bar you can set), so that could turn a lot of people off. But that being said, I don’t blame them given how hard it is to get people to see your film, you have to do something to stand out. Ultimately, it’s more of a mood piece with a good creepy vibe. Worth checking out if you’re into the more arthouse horror stuff. Will teenagers dare themselves to watch it? I doubt they will ever even hear of it. J. The fake documentary segments of this is the problem. It’s the stronger part of it so when you bookend the actual film, Antrum, with these documentary bits, one of them is going to suffer and in this case it’s Antrum itself. As I’m thinking about it, just having a fake documentary about the fake movie Antrum, which would be comprised of these tales of death stemming from folks watching the film sounds much better. In this scenario the audience doesn’t need to see the “movie” Antrum. Just clips would suffice, preferably the strongest ones. We just need to know how “dangerous” it is in that you will fucking die if you watch it. That sounds like a much stronger film to me. Something that would air on Travel Channel for instance. Bloodhound’s average score: 4 out of 5