In a desolate community full of drug-addled Marines and rumors of kidnapping, a wild-eyed stoner named Lou wakes up after a wild night of partying with symptoms of a strange illness and recurring visions as she struggles to get a grip on reality while stories of conspiracy spread.
September 2, 2016
Natasha Lyonne as Lou
Chloë Sevigny as Sadie
Meg Tilly as Lorna
Mark Webber as Gabriel
Natasha Lyonne is the Laurence Olivier of a certain kind of role, and this is it. Trashy, brassy, and stoned, Lyonne plays Lou in Antibirth, written and directed by Danny Perez. Lou is going nowhere fast in a small town in Michigan. Smoking marijuana every night with her BFF Sadie, (Chloë Sevigny), calling-out constantly from her housekeeping job, partying till she blacks out. But that life of excess is thrown into chaos when Lou discovers she’s pregnant. What’s worse, it’s an alien baby from outer space… I think.
Antibirth is a scatterbrained movie, both to its advantage and detriment. Lou’s stomach magically balloons in a matter of days. She’s carrying something strange, possibly from another planet. But the movie is really about the tragedy of the Vietnam War, or the rise of the Military Industrial Complex, or televangelist Jerry Falwell, or the economic death of middle America, or maybe it’s about none of that. Imagine if The X-Files was X-rated. You’d have a sense of what Antibirth is going for. Does it succeed? Yes and no.
If you’re looking for easy answers in this drug-addled experiment in surrealism, you won’t find them. So much the better. The premise is bizarre enough as it is. Any explanation would lessen the dread, and by extension lessen the mystery. The downside to such an esoteric story though; long stretches of time where characters say things that make no sense. Sure, it’s cryptic and creepy, but ultimately hollow. At the end of the movie some clues add up, but not all of them.
The movie would have benefitted from keeping the action focused on Lou and her body horror. Lyonne plays these scenes with such raw power, such sheer agony, that my stomach was in my throat. She takes a kitchen knife to a weird pustule on her foot at one point, and I wanted to hurl.
But the earlier parts of the movie keep bouncing around to various characters, trying to setup things that will become important later, while also tackling backstories using flashbacks. It’s just a train wreck, and it needed to be streamlined. Sadly, Sevigny’s character suffers the most from this scattershot storytelling. Her performance improves as she goes along though.
What never improves is the editing. The editing sucks. The movie is a mess of cross-dissolves, overlays, awkward transitions. They have no rhyme or reason. Sometimes the work achieves a kind of stoner verisimilitude, but most of the time it comes off like an amateurish iMovie. I wish the film had better CGI, although there is a lot of TLC on display with the practical effects. But the set designs are beautiful. They have a landfill chic, reflecting the psychological breakdown of Lou. Antibirth does manage to create its own gonzo sense of logic, and it sticks to it.
About halfway through, Meg Tilly shows up and steals the rest of the movie. Meg Tilly?! That’s right. She plays a crazy lady named Lorna, who claims she was abducted by aliens. Lorna is the only person who believes Lou, the only one willing to help her. Lorna has a few conspiracies of her own, including the belief that the government performed illegal surgeries on her, implanting her with extraterrestrial technology. All while tampering with her memory. Is this true, or is Lorna just off her meds?
The scenes between Tilly and Lyonne are the standouts. If you’ve always been a Meg Tilly fan, you will be rewarded by her performance here. This strange little alien conspiracy movie might be her tour de force. She captures dementia, honesty, and earnestness without a hint of reserve. Natasha Lyonne is a maestro at playing losers, zipheads, and con artists. She forms a sisterly alliance with Tilly that’s oddly tender. Then add into the mix Sevigny, who comes into her own in the last half. The three of them are a powerhouse ensemble.
Unfortunately, the rest of the performances fall flat. The other actors just can’t seem to wrap their heads around the style as easily as the three leads. Teletubbies dance in bowling alleys, a slimy tentacle bursts out of a vagina. It’s that kind of movie. Lynch and Cronenberg would be proud. If you don’t commit one hundred percent to that vision, you undermine the film. That’s not to say these aren’t great actors. They just seem a bit lost.
Antibirth is a journey into mystery along the lines of William Friedkin’s Bug. It offers no concrete answers. It’s both compelling and infuriating at the same time. Lyonne, Tilly, and Sevigny carry the movie through most of its rough patches. Their chemistry is worth the price of admission. The film has enough piss and vinegar to hose down a thousand dive bars. It’s a feminist film with a lot of cojones. Lou asks one of her male friends to go into the grocery store to get her a pregnancy test. “I go in there, they’re gonna say look at her, she’s preggers. You go in there, they’re gonna say cool, he’s getting laid.”
IFC Midnight produced the film. It currently has a release date of September 2, 2016. If by some chance it’s playing at your local theater, I’d recommend giving it a look. Antibirth is daring and subversive, compelling despite its more frustrating aspects. If nothing else, it’s worth it for Meg Tilly delivering a monster baby. That kind of twisted stuff is cooler than all those powdered wigs in Valmont.