Danny Perez’s ‘Antibirth’ makes impression on critics at Sundance Film Festival

Well, the first reviews from Sundance Film Festival are in for Danny Perez’s Antibirth starring Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny — and they’re good!

Although frequently described as a wild, psychedelic ride that is both to the film’s credit and detriment, most critics at the festival seem to have taken to Perez’s style and direction, and Natasha Lyonne’s lead as the drug-ridden Lou has been especially commended. Here’s an overview of the reviews so far.

Kim Newman, Screen Daily:

Antibirth is intentionally ramshackle and hallucinatory as storytelling, seen through the viewpoint of characters who are mostly too stoned to concentrate – but it’s also highly crafted and unsettling. […] Lyonne is vulgar, vulnerable and grotesque throughout, peeling off alien skin patches and gamely waddling into confrontations. Sevigny and Tilly — in her first major screen role in two decades, returning perhaps to the timbre of her work in Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers (1993) — are unusual supporting characters and add value. As befits a film which indicts men’s control over women’s bodies, Antibirth gives these actresses much more to work with than the usual heroines and femmes fatales of horror. […] A seam of good character acting runs through the outrageous horror, and the promising Perez works hard to ground the flights of fancy in credible low-life excesses.

Monica Castillo, Tribeca:

One part horror homage and three parts anti-drug PSA, the strange film mixes a small cast with a monster pregnancy, alien abductions, covert operatives, and a dynamite performance from NYC’s own Natasha Lyonne (currently starring in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black). […] It almost isn’t fair how forcefully Natasha Lyonne steals the movie right from under everyone else in the frame. She’s at ease with the blood and guts and looks to be having fun with her foul-mouthed persona. Lyonne digs her heels into Lou’s growing belly problems, really milking an extended confrontation with a giant blister. Indie cinema queen, and Lyonne’s NYC counterpart, Chloë Sevigny plays Lou’s party monster partner-in-crime to great effect. […] Like its leading lady, Antibirth is a messy but fun watch. Perez channels his background as a music video director to keep the movie flowing and taking creative detours to thwart your expectations.

Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian:

The timeline, like the whole movie, is hazy, and Perez does a great job of mixing blasts of colour, unexplained slow motion and weird sound design to reflect his protagonist’s state of mind. […] The stream-of-consciousness plotting mixed with Lyonne’s deadpan delivery will make for a constant ripple of chuckles, even if it’s unclear if anyone involved in this film actually knows what’s going on. Perez’ style is like a less-serious David Lynch, which is a nice comparison for a first-timer. Not all of his scenes nail that eerie surrealism, but he’s got a knack for a well-placed prop and the right timing for a dopey gag to come in and pop the balloon of suspense.

Alex Springer, Slug Magazine:

Natasha Lyonne, who has more than demonstrated her acting prowess in Orange is the New Black, is Antibirth‘s lucky charm. She infuses the character of Lou with an endlessly watchable mix of cynical humor and dogged determination—especially once a paranoid drifter named Lorna (Meg Tilly) arrives to shed some light on Lou’s condition. Lyonne’s chemistry with Sevigny is excellent—both actresses capture the strain of Lou’s rapidly evolving pregnancy. The entire supporting cast is also rock solid, featuring a creepily sinister turn by Mark Webber as a human trafficker who is dealing in more than just a sex trade. The cast manages to bridge the gap between the film’s fuzzy, dreamlike imagery and the harsh reality of their circumstances. […] It’s evident that writer/director Danny Perez has a unique visual palette for his films. Where some directors might use a film as an excuse to overindulge themselves, Perez has the discipline to reign it in when it comes time to focus on letting the actors tell his story. In between hallucinatory trips into Lou’s slowly eroding mental and physical faculties, Antibirth digs into some seriously relevant issues regarding the mistreatment of military veterans and women in our country. The result becomes a surrealist perspective on the problems that are deeply rooted in American culture–. […] Antibirth is not for everyone — there were a few walkouts during my screening (though not quite to the extent I saw at The Greasy Strangler). It shares scenery between the jarring, violent world of Lou’s hemorrhaging psyche, and its more realistically dark scenes of the human trafficking that appears to be a common practice in this dismal, forgotten town. Regardless, it’s the best Sundance Midnight movie that I’ve seen yet, and it exemplifies the type of filmmaking that I love about the festival.

Here’s also an excerpt from one rather scathing review by Michael Roffman of Consequence of Sound (though we suspect “batshit crazy film” would still be a compliment to Perez & co. ;) ).

There are at least six different movies in Antibirth, and none of them work in tandem. Director, writer, and AnCo buddy Danny Perez tries too many things all at once without any of the finesse to make this either gel or implode in a brilliant mess. Instead, it’s just a mess, one that sputters in all sorts of oddball, incoherent directions that are mostly frustrating and dull. […] “I think I’d remember if I had someone’s cock in me,” she sardonically spits back at her pal Sadie, played by Chloë Sevigny. Oh right, someone tricked her into this movie, too, and while both of them work well together, they mostly wander around aimlessly in a red Saturn because Perez can’t decide what film he wants to make. Still, they have their moments. […] There are certainly laughs, but they mostly come from the astonishment at how this batshit crazy film ever came to fruition.

The general consensus so far seems to be, then, that Antibirth is polarizing but wildly original, thought-provoking and suitably hard to watch for a horror film, with stellar performances from the entire cast. That’s not a bad first response! :)

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