Written by Michael Laicini and David Amito
Directed by Michael Laicini and David Amito
“Antrum is not safe.”
So says an expert in the purported documentary about “the deadliest film ever made.” Antrum is actually two films in one; its title refers to both the end product and the semi-found footage nestled within it. Co-directors Michael Laicini and David Amito take what is essentially an extended short film and they bookend it with a legend-building documentary supplement. The film itself, they claim, is thought to be the work of an Eastern European filmmaker from the 1970s. The credits look to be Russian, sure enough, but aside from some film grain and period-accurate costuming on the actors, it has a rather modern look to it.
If you’ve seen John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, this will look familiar. Before showing the found Antrum print, the documentary portion details a history of marred events surrounding the film and its screenings before the film’s disappearance in 1993. Festival programmers drop dead within days of screening the film, a movie theater burns down, an audience riots, and so forth. The original 35mm print of the film has since been found, according to the directors, and coming to a screening near you.
Like the layers of Hell, Laicini and Amito have stratified the viewing experience. At the post-screening Q&A, they committed to the bit and framed their answers to intimate that they were not the original creators of the cursed film itself. The committed gimmickry has raised some ire here and there, but as a fan of the William Castle era of cinema with hired “screamers” and nurses on standby at screenings, I must say that it’s rather heartwarming to see a sign outside the screening room at IFP Made Media Center reading: “WARNING – This film may trigger: emotional duress, extreme anxiety, seizures, panic attacks, personal injury or death…if you have a heart condition or are pregnant, you are strongly advised not to watch this film.”
In the found film, two siblings go to the fabled spot where Lucifer fell to Earth, and there they try to open a portal to Hell to save their recently euthanized dog. This setting is an Americanized version of Japan’s lush Aokigahara, also known as the Sea of Trees, or Suicide Forest. At the entrance, a sign littered with trinkets and memorial bouquets sits, encouraging visitors to appreciate all that they have to live for. The siblings accidentally interrupt an Asian man attempting to commit suicide in a scene that, despite a lack of subtitles, conveyed heavy emotion across the language barrier. As the narrative plods along, the children see and hear things that gradually but steadily heighten the fear factor. The anxiety reaches debilitating heights and a series of unfortunate events occur that underline themes of the power of fear and how it can cause a sort of self-styled death before actual death, if any, occurs.
The Antrum film itself takes a while to find its feet, fumbling efforts to establish an empathetic connection to and between the young brother and sister before they enter the forest. Once the pair begins digging, then we’re really cooking with peanut oil as superimposed demonic sigils appear in random frames (over a hundred, as the documentary tells it) and the kids hear dragging chains and see shadowed figures around their campsite. A particularly intense sequence has the young duo tormented by real-life evil. There’s also a Brazen Bull torture device (have fun sleeping after reading that Wiki entry). While the found Antrum film stumbles with modern sequences that betray its claim to being filmed in the 70s, its final moments contain one of the most emotionally loaded sequences that the horror genre has offered forth this year.
All told, Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made is a good film comprised of several great elements, wholly elevated by the filmmakers’ literal propagation of art’s devastating effect on people. If nothing else, Laicini and Amito get a tip of the hat for taking what would have been a decent occult film alone and supplementing it with a mythos that gave it credence and word of mouth notoriety, a simple but effective gimmick in the post-Blair Witch Project era of social media and #fakenews. Whether or not you believe the hullabaloo, it might behoove you to repeat the prayer said in the film before you roll the dice and watch it:
“One by one we pray to thee
Protect us from all we’ll see
from all we’ll hear and touch and smell
from all the unknown dark in hell.”
Antrum is a multilayered indulgence of the imagination that uses both internal narrative and a mockumentary structure to blur the line between fiction and reality. Its propagation of legend surrounding the film without limiting itself to strict found footage makes it a unique entry in 2018 horror.