Antibirth (2016)

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“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.” — IMDb

While I do enjoy Natasha Lyonne’s slightly more subtle character in Orange is the New Black, she alone wasn’t quite enough to hold this movie together for me. I appreciate it for its symbolism and what director, Danny Perez, was trying to achieve: this sort of series of hyped up dualities and sort of flipping standards on their head (pregnancy becoming something horrifying and mysterious rather than a happy, glowing miracle, for one) and a commentary on American consumerism (with the snippets of late-night infomercials seeping through seemingly every scene). But I think it was trying a bit too hard and ended up mashing together a few very different themes in a way that felt more jumbled than complex.

*** SPOILERS! ***

Lou (Natasha Lyonne) is the very definition of a partying stoner. She has no interest in anything more serious than which combat boots she’ll wear to tonight’s abandoned warehouse party. She spends much of her time with her friend, Sadie (Chloë Sevigny), who offers little in the way of support or encouragement, but rather just a consistent partner to dance with in a dark room pulsating with music and strobe lights (really, she’s largely pointless in this movie). After a blur of a night, Lou finds herself pregnant (or so she thinks) but can’t recall who could possibly be the father, and things just get weirder from there.

It did a decent job, I thought, of dealing with some serious issues — consenting to sexual encounters, for one, as well as the aforementioned pregnancy and motherhood. There are several references to her pregnancy being unwanted, and being something she felt ill-equipped to handle.

 

It initially seems like Sadie’s boyfriend, Gabriel (Mark Webber), has something to do with Lou’s state — not by means of impregnating her, but through the use of some experimental drugs he is peddling. The setting — a cold, desolate Michigan — is the perfect depressing, end-of-the-road location where people have nothing else to do but get into trouble and find ways to make money. But when Lorna (Meg Tilly) enters the picture, we realize things might go a little deeper than just drug dealers’ antics, and there may be government conspiracy afoot.

The whole body horror side of it was cool — Lou’s body changes so drastically in such a short span of time, it’s really terrifying to behold. It plays into her character a bit too much, I thought, that she seems genuinely unconcerned most of the time (and somehow still convinced that she is merely pregnant with a human child despite her ballooning to what appears to be full-term in just a matter of days). She’s waddling around in her trailer with her skin coming loose and her teeth falling out and this huge, oozing blister on her foot and she’s paranoid and angry, of course, but not nearly as much as one might expect.

In the vein of these sugary happy dualities we have the repeat appearance of the Funzone, a horrifying spin on a sort of Chuck-e-Cheese type of kids’ food and game center, with flickering fluorescent lights and guys dressed up in furry, colorful, ape-like costumes dancing around while cake and pizza are inhaled. It definitely added to the sometimes surreal quality of the movie — especially when the furry creatures are standing around Lou in a sort of drugged-up fantasy. Honestly, I couldn’t decide if I loved them or hated them.

BUT then we get to the end and Lorna is trying to help Lou give birth to the “baby” and men in full body armor and guns start busting in and gassing the trailer and… it’s awesome. Lou gives birth to first just a disembodied head with a partial spinal column and then a hand comes out of her vagina and melts one of the guys’ faces off and AN ENTIRE BODY CRAWLS OUT and she just deflates like an empty balloon while the body sort of does a weird dance and the movie ends with another armed guy rushing in as the body is just standing there holding its own head and… it was incredible. Yes, the story wrapped up (kind of?) by telling us that the military is trying to create a race that can survive the toxic atmosphere of space and Lou’s womb was the perfect experimental location for them to try it out because of her years of wreaking havoc on her body, so… it’s sad in a lot of ways, and scary, as always, to think of a government entity using its people in such a horrific and clandestine way.

It’s definitely a movie that I am appreciating more now, after the fact, than I did when I was watching it. The themes and the symbolism are much more effective when talked about than they were in this actual movie. It was just like Ron Swanson says: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” Except in this case it’s don’t half-ass a government conspiracy movie and a trippy stoner movie and a campy body horror. Just choose one and stick the hell with it. (But seriously, the last 10 minutes or so are worth it.)

Rating: 4/10 | Director: Danny Perez | Writer: Danny Perez | Music: John Kanakis | Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Chloë Sevigny, Meg Tilly, Mark Webber, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Emmanuel Kabongo, Neville Edwards

 

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