Review: Antibirth (2016)

It’s entirely logical that pregnancy has been a recurring theme in so much horror, particularly at the more grotesque end of the spectrum. As much as some of us might like to herald it as a beautiful and miraculous thing, we all know that for most women it will result in nausea, pain, exhaustion, emotional and physical distress, not to mention the fact that in many instances the lucky lady in question might not have even wanted to become a mother in first place. Absolutely, a pregnant woman can see herself as engaging in the greatest act of creation she will ever undertake – but she might just as easily see herself as the host to a parasite, and it’s hard to fault that logic.

Am I danger of being burnt at the stake for mansplaining here? Perhaps, but given that Antibirth is the brainchild (sort-of pun sort-of intended) of male writer-director Danny Perez, I feel like I should be safe given my Y-chromosome-enabled point of view on the matter. For what it’s worth I’m also a father and was present at the birth of both my children, so I do have some hands-on experience with pregnancy, in all its wonder and its ugliness. You might not be surprised to hear that it’s the ugly side which Antibirth takes the most interest in.

Natasha Lyonne – an actress who seems to have been playing fucked-up party girls basically forever (and why not, she’s damn good at it) – is Lou, a woman whose photograph you might expect to find from a Google image search of ‘poor white trash.’ Living rent free in the cabin her late father was given for his military service, and working as few shifts as possible cleaning out rooms at a local motel, Lou’s primary goal in day to day life is to be permanently wasted on any and all intoxicants she can get her hands on, and it seems this has been true for pretty much her entire adult life. After blacking out at a party with her BFF Sadie (Chloë Sevigny) and Sadie’s drug dealer boyfriend Gabriel (Mark Webber), from which the last thing Lou remembers is being huddled outside by Gabriel’s lackey Warren (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos), Lou finds herself suffering symptoms which look suspiciously like pregnancy. Naturally, she opts to medicate herself the only way she knows how: by continuing to get wasted every hour God sends. However, her symptoms seem to grow unusually severe, and the growth in her belly increases in size at an alarming rate, begging the question of just how ordinary a pregnancy this is – and just what happened to Lou after she blacked out that night. Is it just a case of Lou’s out-of-whack hormones being messed up further by her prodigious drug and alcohol intake, or is something altogether more bizarre and horrific going on? She doesn’t know, but enigmatic ex-soldier Lorna (Meg Tilly) seems to have some notion of the sinister forces which may be at play.

A recurring issue with contemporary indie horror  – not a problem necessarily, but notable nonetheless – is that it often winds up feeling more indie than horror. The casting alone should make it evident where Antibirth falls on that side of the spectrum, with Lyonne and Sevigny both having a long history in the artier end of independent filmmaking and rather less experience in horror (I doubt anyone wants to dwell on Lyonne’s role in Blade: Trinity). Antibirth is a deliberately odd blend, in many respects reminiscent of the in-your-face low budget genre-blending outsider cinema of Greg Araki, but with more explicitly horror leanings, particularly once we make it to the inevitably batshit final reel. It would seem Perez’s whole point was for the film to be a jarring experience, an audio-visual overload designed to keep the audience off balance and in the protagonist’s drug-addled mindset; but even so, there may be cause to question just how well some of the more absurd plot elements fit together. There may also be some question of just how invested the audience can get in Lou’s struggle given what an unsympathetic character she tends to be. Even so, Antibirth does present a grim picture of the harsh realities facing the impoverished when pregnant or otherwise in need of medical attention, with which its hard not to feel some empathy.

I’m not sure it’s necessarily a roaring success, but Antibirth is interesting, worthwhile viewing nonetheless. Natasha Lyonne does wonderful work in the lead, even if it’s the kind of role she can do in her sleep, and it’s nice to see Meg Tilly back in an intriguing supporting role. There’s also great support from Mark Webber, fresh from his role in the brilliant Green Room, who brings a lot of that same menace to his performance here.

Antibirth is out now in the UK on digital platforms, and comes to DVD on 10th April, via Solo Media and Matchbox Films.