Toronto After Dark 2016: ‘Antibirth’ and ‘From a House on Willow Street’

Antibirth (DIR. Danny Perez)

Antibirth is the feature film debut of Danny Perez, someone who has – until now – worked exclusively in music videos, and it shows.  The film has a chaotic punk rock aesthetic and beautiful imagery, but not much else going for it.  Just like a music video, Antibirth is all about getting from one image to the next, only this time with several minutes of dead air between each visual.

The film follows Lou (Natasha Lyonne) as she begins to show signs of pregnancy, despite the fact that she has not had sex in six months.  This leads to plenty of hallucinations and Lyonne’s body acting unusually altogether (body parts ballooning, disgusting bodily functions, and no shortage on pus).  The effects are absolutely great (if this is your “thing”), and various hints of experimentation are appreciated.  Even the “normal” scenes are to be commended along with supporting performances by Chloë Sevigny and Meg Tilly.  Lyonne, Sevigny, and Tilly all have great chemistry and watching them banter is an absolute treat.

Every frame is full of detail and chaos.  One scene in particular shows Lou struggling to walk as the frame is split in half by a doorway.  The foreground shows a no-smoking sign (despite Lyonne constantly smoking pot throughout) and the background displays a Suicide poster.  Antibirth will certainly open doors for DoP Rudolf Blahacek.

The main weakness of Antibirth is Danny Perez’s half-baked, incomplete vision.  The film kind of feels like the viewer is stoned – most sequences and segments seem like they came from different places.  This may be an unintentional endorsement in a way, but there is very little coherency to the film, which makes it suffer as a horror story.

Antibirth could become the next classic stoner film, but as a horror/comedy, Perez needs to try again.

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From a House on Willow Street (DIR. Alastair Orr)

First, the good: Alastair Orr’s From a House on Willow Street has some amazing makeup work, one of the best posters of any film at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and the film includes the most clever scare in a horror in recent years.  The film also utilizes chiaroscuro effects to great value.  However, even with those strengths, there are large stretches in From a House on Willow Street that border on inept filmmaking.

The South African film starts with a kidnapping.  It then turns out that the kidnapped woman may be more dangerous than the kidnappers as it becomes evident that she has brought some form of evil with her back from, yes, the house on Willow Street.

The final product is approximately sixty percent exposition and forty percent cliché;  including every horror cliché to pad out the story.  The amount of time the screenwriters dedicated to backstory strategizing clearly took away from the amount of time spent on creating actual scares.  There are a lot of apparitions throughout, but they frequently fail to startle.  After twenty minutes, it becomes clear that the scares have a formula: music rises, grotesque humanoid pops up (again, the makeup is superb), character screams, humanoid disappears, rinse and repeat.  The performances even end up suffering due to Orr’s uninspired direction (You’re Next final girl Sharni Vinson is also affected).

A rushed, somewhat problematic ending is the final nail in the coffin.

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