The trope of having a film that can literally kill isn’t new. Think Ringu, or the one at the heart of John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns. Antrum sets its stall out right from the start. Opening with documentary talking heads discussing the film you’re about to see. It’s only public screenings had culminated in death and destruction. All the festival programmers who watched it died within hours. You may think you’ve seen it all, but stick with this as Antrum is truly something else.
Apparently made in 1979, the film itself is follows a brother and sister attempting to conjure the devil to resurrect a lost dog. It looks authentic enough, with muted colours, scratched print, and an eerie, disconcerting soundtrack. Look closely, though, and you’ll see the scratches are symbolic of something much more evil. Subliminal frames have been spliced into the print making the viewing experience even more disturbing. Antrum comes across at times like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as directed by David Lynch.
Anyone who has a fondness for seventies grindhouse or even arthouse obscurities will find something to enjoy here, such is the attention to detail. Everything about the film-within-a-film appears authentic. Even the documentary wraparound is convincing once you get over the preconceived thought that they’re just going to build up the hype to nothing. The narration is a note-perfect replication of what we could expect from a serious BBC doc. This is clever, engrossing filmmaking that we don’t see enough of.
Watching the supposed cursed film is an unsettling experience. Not because we think there might be some harm to come from it, but purely because of the combination of all the elements. The sound design is fantastic, particularly the use of Alicia Fricker’s ethereal harmonic score, which evokes memories of arty European horror films, while the rumbling hum on some scenes burrows into your mind. The visuals, performances (even the kid is good!), and plot all work to unnerve. Are we right to think this is all fake, or is what we’re watching the real deal?
You may not be risking death by watching Antrum, but you’ll certainly be missing out if you give it a swerve.