“Antibirth” is an avant-garde oddity that’s highly original, often bewildering, and utterly captivating; it’s Natasha Lyonne at her best.
A seriously WTF, sci-fi/horror comedy with a body horror bent and a wicked punk rock aesthetic? Interested?
What if I told you it was a modern horror film reminiscent of delightfully over-the-top, blood-soaked ‘80s horror schlock like Toxic Avenger, It’s Alive, Brain Damage, Basket Case, and The Stuff? Oh, and did I mention it stars the always-brilliant Natasha Lyonne AND Chloë Sevigny?
If that’s not enough to make you salivate, you and I are on two very different wavelengths.
If you’ve never seen 2014’s Antibirth, get ready to have one hell of a trip. This is a film that must be seen to be believed.
Anti-hero Lou (Lyonne) is an irresponsible, foul-mouthed, languid party girl who nurses a bong nearly 24/7. In fact, there’s hardly a scene in the film when she isn’t partaking in some type of substance in an attempt to stay high from sunrise to sunset.
You also wouldn’t be crazy for thinking writer-director Danny Perez, making his feature debut, might have been a bit high himself when he birthed this bizarre brainchild. You might even want to be a little baked when you sit down to watch this. If that’s the case, the experts at https://askgrowers.com/cbd/flower can point you in the right direction.
Not that you need to be high to enjoy this hidden horror gem, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
But I digress… back to the hallucinogenic plot.
Following a night of hard partying, Lou blacks out and starts to feel extremely ill. She and her best friend Sadie (Sevigny) visit a friend who is a vet because Lou can’t afford a real doctor.
Lou hopes her friend can make an educated guess about what might be wrong with her and give her some quick-fix pills. But she balks at the suggestion that she might be pregnant, swearing she hasn’t had sex in months.
As her symptoms intensify, Lou continues to live in denial. Nonetheless, Sadie does her best to get Lou to take better care of herself — eat healthier and scale back the drug use — advice Lou furiously and frustratingly ignores.
After some psychedelic hallucinations, gnarly body horror, and a rapidly expanding belly making it clear something is definitely not right, it turns out an experimental drug may be the reason for her immaculate pregnancy. And the life growing in her womb may be something far more worrisome than an unwanted baby.
As she struggles to figure out just what the hell is happening to her, she’s aided by a mysterious but good-natured stranger, a wide-eyed conspiracy theorist, played to perfection by Meg Tilly, who claims to know exactly who and what is behind Lou’s terrifying predicament.
Tilly is spectacular, and her tender, soft-spoken, and compassionate nature serves as a great contrasting element to the brash, gruff, emotionally distant Lou.
There’s a lovely scene where Tilly’s character tends to Lou’s injured foot, and it’s really beautiful. It’s also heartbreaking, as it’s abundantly clear Lou has been shown precious little kindness or empathy in her life.
If Lou were played by anyone other than Lyonne, she might be too aggressively unlikable to tolerate.
If it were anyone else, you might not care enough about her plight to remain invested in the bewildering journey of Antibirth.
But even at her most despicable, Lyonne exudes irrepressible charm, humor, and vulnerability. Her relentless self-abuse is hard to watch, but there’s a real humanity under her hard edges, and it’s tough not to root for her to overcome her harrowing ordeal.
She’s also a master of physical comedy, and she really gets to showcase her talent as her belly rapidly distends to the point where she has to hobble around using a baseball bat for a cane. Even in her fragile, nearly immobilized state, she doesn’t lose an ounce of sharp edge or sass.
Rather than playing the victim, she remains an adorable, sunglass-wearing, chain-smoking, profanity-spewing, raspy-voiced firecracker.
Still, when things really go south, and her body becomes a battleground, she really sells the physical anguish and nightmarish aspect of grueling childbirth.
Not only is Lyonne extraordinary, but she’s in nearly every minute of the film, and she’s strong enough to carry it even if some of the film’s more odd or confrontational elements don’t quite land for you.
The content may be gritty, gory, and grotesque. But the film is beautifully shot with some disorienting editing that makes it feel wonderfully surreal and Lynchian.
The final fifteen minutes of Antibirth are absolutely gonzo — unhinged, gory, horrifying, and a dazzling display of killer creature effects.
Perez wears his impressive influences on his sleeve, serving up a bit of Rosemary’s Baby, a bit of The Brood, a bit of Street Trash, and even a bit of The Big Lebowski.
And in the middle of madness drenched in low-budget gore, there’s some surprising social commentary. The subtext may not hit you over the head, and it’s certainly not preachy. But the film does have some potent things to say about the treatment of the poor and vulnerable, the downtrodden and discarded, including our veterans.
There’s a chilling line delivered by Sadie’s drug-dealing boyfriend that really sums up the pathos of the film:
“There’s always people getting dirty, Sadie. People getting used up, getting eaten up. And I am just trying to stay on top.”
Afterbirth is tonally wild and won’t be for everyone, but creativity and style points alone make it hard not to recommend.
Throw in a spectacular finale and Lyonne at her scene-stealing best, and there’s plenty to love about this under-the-radar peculiarity.