In the long list of postmodern horror films Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made, directed by David Amito and Michael Laicini, has a special place. Few movies have the audacity to play up their own potential as intriguingly and brazenly. It’s a potential pitfall since the louder a film blusters about its own power, the higher it sets the bar. For the most part, it’s a bar the film reaches.
After a hype-building opening mockumentary section which establishes the terrifying legacy of Antrum, a mysterious Satanic film, we are faced with a stark disclaimer. The filmmakers take no responsibility for what may happen to any viewer of the film. The message stays on screen whilst a 30 second timer counts down, giving us one last chance to escape a horrifying fate. It should feel like sheer hokum but sets up proceedings nicely.
The actual film presented is inconsistently effective. Its opening dreamlike atmosphere lures the viewer in and takes us on a sort of perverse childhood adventure. A brother (Rowan Smyth) and sister (Nicole Tompkins) travel to a forest with the intention of digging a hole to Hell so they can rescue their dog’s soul. Expectations are high and the film does nothing if not build a startling amount of anticipation for its lost film.
Horror comes easy with directors Amito and Laicini proving talented scare tacticians. They craft a palpable feeling of isolation and do well at images of pure unsettling insinuation. The casual reveal of a rotting corpse near the children’s camp, dark forms stalking in the woods, unnerving noises in the night. There are no jump scares and certainly no need for them either when the mood is so well executed. As the kids dig, the youngest seems to know what circle of hell they have reached, the journey more metaphysical than it is geographic.
The issue is that for all its bluster, the pristinely executed opening, the chilling atmosphere, retro vibes, and scares, the film loses its mojo around the halfway mark. When Antrum reveals itself to be more at the whim of local satanic hillbillies than the actual denizens of hell, it becomes unfortunately plain. It’s never scarier or more potent a chiller than when we are trapped with its young leads, terrorised by dark forms in the woods, subject to the chilling mystery of just what could be so terrifying about the film. The eventual involvement of perverted woodland psychos invokes decent tension but loses something of that unspeakable, formless, fear. It becomes understandable, definable.
Antrum talks the talk and for a solid first half, evokes a genuine sense of potential danger. Third act wobbles do derail the mood slightly, but the eventual finale revelation is bizarrely unnerving. I am not superstitious. Neither am I religious. But Antrum’s flagrant flirtation with the demonic, and the admission that it is essentially goading something to happen, does hold a strange power. Though the finale segment of dissemination by film experts is rushed, it gets the point across: if ever there was a film which could summon a demonic entity, Antrum is it.
Dir. David Amito, Michael Laicini
Stars. Nicole Tompkins, Rowan Smyth, Dan Istrate, Circus-Szalewski