Horrible Imaginings 2019: ANTRUM Review—A Nightmarish, Satanic Throwback Wrapped in an Urban Legend

Starring Nicole Tompkins, Rowan Smyth, Dan Istrate,
Circus-Szalewski, Kristen Elling, and Shu Sakimoto

Written by David Amito, Michael Laicini

Directed by David Amito, Michael Laicini


Would you see a movie so dangerous that you’d have to sign a
waiver to watch it? I did just that at last weekend’s 10th annual
Horrible Imaginings Film Festival.

Antrum (aka Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever
Made
) is a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma. More specifically,
it’s a piece of lost media, wrapped in an urban legend, adorned with a convincing
mockumentary. While the gimmick factor is high, the film succeeds at every
turn; and while it may not deliver the fatal terror it promises (which is probably
a good thing) Antrum adeptly engrosses, unnerves, and entertains.
Allow me to break down the film’s interlocking components.

The Legend: Produced in the 1970s by brothers
documenting an occult ritual, Antrum disappeared soon after its
completion before reemerging in 1988. During screening at a film festival in
Budapest, the theater burned to the ground and several of the event’s programmers
died under mysterious circumstances. A few years later, a riot erupted in a
theater in San Francisco where Antrum was screened; in the
ensuing chaos, the only physical print went missing—until now.

Antrum opens as a documentary that explores
these and other details surrounding the creation and loss of this supposedly
cursed film. Once the history is presented, it’s revealed that the documentary’s
producers have somehow procured the only remaining physical copy of Antrum.
We hear from experts in cinema, history, and the occult before being shown Antrum
in its entirety. A stern message warns viewers to leave the theater if they fear
any potentially negative repercussions. There’s a countdown—and then there’s no
turning back.

The Movie: Antrum looks and feels like an actual film from the 1970s; everything about it seems authentic. If the idea of a cursed movie had you expecting something like the infamous videotape in The Ring (random, disturbing images and dissonant noises without a narrative) think again. This is traditional (and skillful) storytelling. There’s a straightforward, surprisingly poignant plot that pulls us in immediately and keeps us both rapt and engrossed. There’s a bright, Technicolor pallet that reinforces the idea that Antrum was produced in the 1970s while delivering copious daylight terror, not unlike Ari Aster’s Midsommar.

After the family dog is put to sleep, a young boy asks his
mother if Maxine is in Heaven. “No,” she coolly informs him; Maxine was bad and
so she went someplace else. Somehow convinced that the dog is trapped in Hell,
the boy and his teenage sister embark on a quest to save her soul. The enter a
foreboding wooded area and begin digging a hole in the ground. As they dig deeper,
the terrors of the Abyss begin to emerge, transforming and infecting everything
around them. Demons and creatures (both corporeal and nebulous) emerge to wreak
havoc. The horror reaches a dizzying crescendo before delivering a gut-punch
conclusion that’s both fantastically triumphant and devastatingly nihilistic.

Antrum is an excellent horror movie throwback,
but it’s also a penetrating study of death and grief through the eyes of a
child. It’s a tale of a sister’s love for her younger brother, as well as the
bonds established between humans and animals. The irony is, this story is
profound enough to make Antrum worth your attention, even without
the “potentially fatal” gimmick. Of course, the gimmick is more than just a way
to put butts in seats; it’s a jumping-off point for discussing the very real
impacts of subversive artforms.

The Documentary: While the majority of Antrum’s
runtime is the film itself, the narrative is bookended by a mockumentary. The opening
outlines the urban legend associate with Antrum (as previously
described in this review) while the conclusion explores the film itself. We’re
told that the footage has been manipulated; in addition to employing specific sonic
frequencies and symbols of invocation, Antrum is peppered with
footage that seems out of place and oppositional to the main narrative (specifically,
a man and woman being tortured and killed in what looks like a gym locker room).
Essentially, Antrum is a puzzle begging to be assembled—and this isn’t
something that can be done in a single viewing. I look forward to seeing how
the legend of Antrum expands once the film is released on DVD and
internet sleuths have had the opportunity to dissect the movie frame-by-frame.

  • ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE
4.0

Summary

We’ve seen mockumentaries and films with gimmicks before, but Antrum is a unique and fascinating beast. It becomes something more than just a film, presenting itself as a riddle begging to be unraveled. A near collage of medium and symbology, Antrum is both a spooky viewing experience and a profound meditation of the power of cinema to inspire and disturb.

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