Directed by the acclaimed serial provocateur and current Cannes persona non grata, Lars Von Trier, for a budget of $11,000,000.00, this controversial, widely reviewed and much discussed film earned less than $1,000,000.00 worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. If controversy, shock value and provenance were the core of the marketing effort (with significant assist from his distinguished cast, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourgh, winner of the Best Actress award at Cannes), they failed to motivate fans of the genre and of the auteur.
The trailer must take its lumps along with the publicity and promotional efforts that IFC put into opening this film. With this provenance, this publicity, this profile and a skilled distribution company behind it, I am left to wonder how a horror film that obtained superb press and quite a few rave reviews, could have performed so spectacularly badly?
The title, jumps to mind, as one of the key challenges facing the key art as well as the trailer makers. Audiences know what “Antichrist” means and they expect, rightfully, that a movie so named, will have something to do with or say about the Antichrist. But Mr. Von Triers, whether from arrogance or poetical license, has made a film whose relation to commonplace (or literal) understandings of the Antichrist are tenuous at best or non-existent at worst. This is a film about a couples dance with psychosis after the accidental death of their child. The wife becomes delusional as the therapist husband attempts to intervene, choosing an approach that while unsuccessful, is not utterly without justification.
The trailer, while atmospheric, spooky, disturbing and spine-tingling makes no attempt to explain the connection to Antichrist, presumably, because it cannot. Instead it does what trailers traditionally do: establishing characters and situation, presenting the conflict, and suggesting the likely resolution. The film itself may be to blame for its subjective, impressionistic explanation of the wife’s psychotic break, for the trailer provides only a minimum of information: A couple has lost a baby. They have come to a remote cabin in a place called EDEN where the husband seeks to help his wife manage her grief, fears, suicidal ideation and violent impulses. He does not succeed.
What we don’t learn from the trailer—and are obliged to determine based on the occult title– is the nature of the wife’s psychosis; whether it is ordinary human psychological dysfunction, brought on by stress, or something paranormal or supernatural that is provoking her torment and her sado-masochistic reaction. There are shots of animals—a fox, a raven, bloated ticks—but these are all to be found in the woods. No other agents are present.
A likely audience member could be excused for thinking that the film will involve a lot of running amok in the woods for reasons that are never quite clear. Having spent some time working in PR and publicity for a horror-oriented film studio, I’ve arrived at the unsurprising discovery that core genre audiences–like most audiences–are resistant to performing the interpretive work by themselves, preferring directors and screenwriters to accomplish their bit first.
The trailer does tell us that we can expect beautiful cinematography, skillful acting, sexually explicit scenes, graphic violence, and gruesome images, the latter three to be expected in most contemporary horror films. For the average genre fan, that’s the bare minimum to be expected and hardly cause for a special trip to the cineplex.
Theatrical trailer/ Horror genre/ Review & Scene driven. Minimal copy and graphic design. Story conveyed is dialogue driven, and even that is minimal.
[MUSIC CUES w/ Timing]
0:00 – :07 – Low, ominous rumble
:08 – :29 Early Music – Madrigal. Sung by castrati or Countertenor. Religious sounding.
:33 – Swooping noise
:39- :41 Deep bass drum
:56 – 1:15: Electronic Bells tolling, deep, with “giant footsteps” approaching between peals.
1:16 Caw of a raven/Shriek of a woman
1:24 Roar of a fox (not a snarl, but a roar) / Shriek of a raven
1:25-:34 Rising tone of suspense to climax at 1:34.
1:35 Baby cry
1:38 – 1:43 Thunder peals
1:49 – Steam whistle/ Train Brakes/Squealing noise
1:50 – Resonating bass note to end.
[COMMENT ON MUSIC AND SOUNDSCAPE]
The music cues are discontinuous. This trailer does not offer wall to wall background sound, but instead a series of jarring, disturbing, menacing and atmospheric noises that declare its generic affiliation and elicit the appropriate emotional response in the viewer. Actual music consists of the opening madrigal, a stately, inspiring and beautiful vocal over mandolin or stringed instrument. This is as explicitly religious as the trailer gets.
[PAPER CUT w/ timing]
:00 – :07 static shot, Anita Singh’s review over indiscernible washed out static shot.
:08-:09 – IFC logo.
:10 – :38 Scenes of Gainsbourg and Dafoe, establishing the dramatic situation. Laurels from various film festivals laid over baby’s death, husband’s therapeutic efforts and wife’s emotional trauma.
:39 – :56 To the Woods. A time-lapse shot of light and shadow passing over dense brambles. (This is not a pastoral meadow!) Three slow-motion shots of Gainsbourg crossing a bridge, passing a barren tree in a post-apocalyptic landscape and walking through the woods, as seen from a low-angle shot, framed by bushes. A car—presumably the protagonist’s– drives into a vast, undeveloped forest.
:57 -1:15 – Arrival at the cabin (Eden). Wife’s delusion and distress intensify. Surreal scene of acorns falling on Husband.
1:16 – :17 Director’s Credit
1:18- 1:37 Scenes of terror, suggestions of violence. Two reviews are laid over a static but indistinguishable shot of what looks like branches and trees. Some quick cuts, featuring animal images (with roars and screeches), introducing action involving our protagonists and likely weapons (a shovel, for example.)
1:38-:39 Willem Dafoe’s Card – White, ghosted, glowing lettering against static shot of star.
1:40 – :41 – Charlotte Gainsbourg’s card. White, ghosted, glowing lettering against static shot of star.
1:48-49 – Title “ANTICHRIST” in hand-painted red brush strokes. Only use of red in trailer.
1:50 – :56 – Button: WD and CG fucking on top of tree roots, beneath which other bodies can be seen. “Do you want to kill me,” he asks? “Not yet,” she answers.
To Critical reception: Roger Ebert, Anita Singh, Wesley Morris
Awards and Festival Laurels: Cannes/ Other Film Festivals
Provenance: Lars Von Triers, IFC
Actors: distinguished, award winning talents Dafoe and Gainsbourg
Controversy & scandal: evident in provocative title.
Genre: Horror, Occult
Men and Women: Educated/urban
I count something north of 70 edits in this 126 second trailer. That is a leisurely pace for the genre, accentuated by four slow-motion scenes. The most common transition is a fast fade to black, with a few straight cuts in the two quick-cut action segments. Otherwise, the editing rhythm corresponds to the one piece of vocal/instrumental music and to the several, jarring and brief sound effects. Graphic design is modest, with the same white lettering/font used for the review copy, the director’s credit and the actor’s cards. Antichrist, as mentioned above, uses a paint-brush-stroke in vivid red; the final T is represented by the symbol for woman (resembling an Egyptian Ankh). The only other word in the trailers (beyond the credit bed) is the word ‘GYNOCIDE’ on the cover of the Wife’s book. Whether it’s her own writing or that of another is not indicated or obvious. The term means “Woman Killing.”