The Movie Waffler New to Shudder - ANTRUM | The Movie Waffler

New to Shudder - ANTRUM

antrum review
The self-professed "deadliest film ever made."

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: David Amito, Michael Laicini

Starring: Nicole Tompkins, Rowan Smyth, A.J. Bond, Nathan Fleet, Brock Fricker, Assen Gadjalov

antrum poster

Meta-fictional scene setting has long been a part of horror’s playful mien. From M.R. James impressing upon his gathered male students that the ghost story he was to impart was in turn once told to him by the narrative’s participant, to Mary Shelley popping up to say hello at the start of The Bride of Frankenstein a few years later, all the way to The Blair Witch Project’s various ingenious gimmicks; this negotiation of the fourth wall is part and parcel of horror’s pleasure, wherein the storyteller is able to reach across the screen or page and entice the audience further into their fictional, uncanny shadows.

David Amito and Michael Laicini’s Antrum (oh, alright, Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made, to give it its full title) takes such japery to an extreme, and exhibits, in the manner of John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns (which gets a namecheck here) or Tim Lucas’ wonderful 'Throat Sprockets' novel, a bedevilled film which will seriously ruin the day of anyone foolhardy enough to watch it - yikes! The things I do for The Waffler...

antrum review

Opening with a convincing montage of old silents that feature vivid, occulty imagery, we are privy to a portentous voiceover telling us about this ‘Antrum’ film which surfaced from nowhere (Bulgaria) at some point in the 1970s and then as quickly disappeared, not only because it was just so fucking scary, but also due to its highly calamitous nature. It is what Shudder would call a ‘Cursed Film’, with festival programmers who dared to show Antrum in the ensuing decades coming a cropper: as a result of screening it, one poor lad got stung by a stonefish (?) and a cinema in Budapest went and caught on fire during a screening. Real life bods who are loosely affiliated with the American indie horror scene attest to the existence and ominous reputation of Antrum. And then, after 10 minutes or so of this credibly presented documentary fanfare, we witness this fabled film. Get startled, yeah?

Except, to add injury to potential hermetic insult, this particular print (the last surviving one, naturally) has been fiddled with at some point by berserk celluloid vandals who have scratched witchy symbols into the print and also, for some reason, intercut scenes from a decidedly less innocent flick into the narrative. Because, as a standalone film, the main Antrum storyline is a sweet natured '70s set fairy-tale, featuring a young boy, Nathan (Rowan Smyth), and his teen sister Oralee (Nicole Tompkins) journeying into the woods to dig a hole. The little boy’s dog has died, and, in the film’s most unsettlingly creepy moment, when he asks his mom about the whereabouts of the dog’s soul, he is told "Maxine isn’t in heaven because she was bad" (brrrrrr!). Oralee has made up a story (an early indication of narrative determinism) about the forest being the place where Satan fell to earth, and that if they dig a hole on the exact spot where the Shining One landed then they can rescue Maxine’s soul from Hell - awwww.

antrum review

This part of the film is shot using that lovely, buttery light which characterises this sort of vintage horror, and the soundtrack is made up of intense and originally deployed ambient noise, which makes it rather remarkable to look at and listen to. The actors are utterly superb too, inhabiting not only convincing roles as protagonists but as archetypes of a type of horror which existed far before either of them were even born.

Along the way artfully scraped sigils pop up on the screen, and there are subliminal transitions of a horrible black and white snuff film (think the sort of weird thing that is faked on YouTube and pored over on Reddit. Apparently, it is rumoured that certain viewers have also seen a dark faced demon interrupting the narrative at a certain point, staring at you for a good minute or so while silently whispering your name, giving credence to the claim that Amato and Laicini are actually Satanic agents who are playing a long con with Antrum’s deliberately amateurish approach in order to lull the viewer into false security to allow their Dark Lord and Master full uninhibited access to your soul. I didn’t see anything, though. Perhaps you might...).

antrum review

The orphic static is, however, distinctly less interesting than the abiding storyline of Nathan and Oralee trapped in a reverse Eden as they face creeping dark shadows, strange noises and, ugh, beastial hick cannibals who worship Baphomet and try to Hansel and Gretel our intrepid heroes. Never mind the devil, there is eerie poetry here in the obtuse angles of the camera, the Krzysztof Komeda-esque soundtrack, the weird echoes of the forest (including, in one inspired moment, the kids ‘hearing’ the hitherto non-diegetic score).

The overall experience of Antrum, however, is like when someone prefaces a joke with a massive lead up: telling you how funny the joke is, how funny they found the joke, how much you’re going to find the joke funny, etc, before finally telling you the actual joke. What joke ever could overcome such manufactured expectations? Ultimately Antrum suffers from a similarly self-defeating hyperbole - it isn’t nearly as frightening or unsettling as the framing device promises. I mean, my house didn’t even burn down while I was watching it! The shame is that it didn’t need to be, and, on its own merits, the ‘Maxine’ narrative is quite arresting, replete with beguiling folkloric touches and striking performances. The ‘deadliest film ever made’? It’s probably not even the deadliest film released this month. But don’t let that blind you to Antrum’s buried charms.

Antrum is on Shudder UK now.