Antibirth is being marketed as a body-horror B-movie, but Danny Perez is very pointed in the genre flick that he wrote and directed. While providing gross-out moments with oozing pus, splattering blood, and pulsating veins, the film also keeps up a steady commentary on women’s bodies and women’s rights. It’s impossible to ignore the rape allegory that Antibirth is spinning, and it’s the smartest part of a film that excellently casts Natasha Lyonne but otherwise trips over obvious storytelling choices.
The film is set in a sleepy, deserted town in Midwest America, where practically everyone is using drugs, it seems to be snowing all the time, and missing girl fliers are papered everywhere. It’s undeniably a terrible place, but Lou (Natasha Lyonne) doesn’t seem particularly bothered by her own aimlessness. Sometimes she works as a motel maid, but mostly she parties – hard. Cigarettes are chain-smoked; alcohol is constant; pills are a must.
Her best friend, Sadie (Chloë Sevigny), seems to have her life slightly more together, but that only means that she gives Lou rides and sometimes brings her doughnuts. Otherwise, Sadie had a child that was taken from her, and is dating the local drug dealer, Gabriel (Mark Webber), who keeps a disfigured Russian girl in his apartment so he can sell her clean urine to people trying to cheat drug tests, and he also pimps out teenage girls to customers who have sex with them behind a bowling alley. He is pretty much the worst goddamn person.
Lou is used to feeling bad – a diet consisting only of candy and toxic garbage will do that to you – but after a rager where she was led away from the party by Gabriel’s friend Warren (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) and can’t remember what happened afterward, she starts feeling particularly strange. “You think I’d remember if I had someone’s cock in me!” Lou says to Sadie, but there’s a real possibility she could be pregnant. “You think I could find somebody to push me down a staircase or something?” she jokes, but as things start getting more bizarre, the opportunities for humor practically disappear.
Her stomach attracts static electricity from her old TV. Her nipples start bleeding. She starts remembering flashes from the night she blacked out. A patch of her skin peels off and a tooth falls out. And, in the course of only a few days, she becomes hugely, aggressively pregnant – her stomach swollen and threaded with pulsating veins. It becomes obvious that not only is Lou pregnant, but that there’s also something undeniably wrong with her – and perhaps those two things are the same.
Antibirth is primarily successful because of Lyonne, whose disaffected, sarcastic, casual party-girl image is a spot-on fit for Lou. Who else but Lyonne could pull any of this off: the inclusion of fishnet in every outfit; dialogue like “I love pissing,” “Let me tell you what I need: candy, money, and whip-its, and “I don’t talk about aliens when I’m getting high. I have a strict policy. Just don’t do it!”; and the relationship with Sevigny. Their close friendship in real life is tapped into here quite efficiently; you get the sense that these are women who have known each other a long time, who have each been through some garbage in life, and whose constant partying and enabling of each other is because there’s nothing much else to live for. Might as well get trashed and eat some leftover motel pizza while you still can.
There are weaker elements here, though, and it’s unfortunate that they are practically all of the B-movie body-horror stuff. There’s a conspiracy that doesn’t really come to fruition and monsters that seem more goofy than scary, and some oozing pus and splattering blood are almost tame in comparison with the torture porn to which audiences have become accustomed.
But Perez has a good eye for creepy stuff that will stick, with an intrusive, nightmarish examination of Lou’s womb and a close-up shot of one of those portrait birthday cakes, with a child’s face on it, being cut into slices with a large knife. It’s a twist on an everyday event – who doesn’t like cake? – that makes something mundane seem ominous and jarring.
That’s what Antibirth is doing on a grand scale, really, with Perez’s focus on how the changes to a woman’s body can be devastating and unwanted, and the matter-of-fact way he considers how disposably men treat women’s bodies – whether using them for clean urine, sexual profit, or even more nefarious ends. When Lou snaps at Warren, “I know what an abortion is,”, that’s her frustration with everyone’s disingenuousness coming to the forefront. When she snarls at Sadie, “I’m not pregnant … I’m infected. Whatever is inside of me is infecting my brain, my body; it’s not just in my crotch,” that’s her rage at what others have done to her body. All of that stuff, Lyonne aces, but Antibirth needed more of that to fully rise above its somewhat generic B-movie trappings.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Guttenbergs