The Twilight Saga: New Moon | Antichrist
Cinema reviews for 26.11.09: Twilight sequel, von Trier horror
What a limp and lifeless movie. The first Twilight was no masterpiece, but it had a craft and mystery that was almost enchanting; The Twilight Saga: New Moon is virtually the same film, with Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass) replacing Catharine Hardwicke as director. But the craft has been drained, and the mystery is long gone, and the result is an unbearable slog that will appeal to fans of the series and leave all others twitching in their seats.
I´m not familiar with the novels by Stephanie Meyer, but I do remember liking the original film. Still, I was lost during the opening fifteen minutes of New Moon, which does non-fans no favors. Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) share an endless series of long, lustful glances that must imply something, as I search my memory of the previous movie. He´s a vampire and she´s a regular girl, hopelessly in love but destined to - wait a minute - those scenes from Zeffirelli´s Romeo and Juliet at the beginning of the movie, I wonder if they hold some significance?
Edward and Bella continue to share long, lustful glances, careful not to get to close: you see, he thirsts for her blood but painfully resists, and she´s careful not to lead him on. Though they both want it so bad. It´s all a sex parable of course, affirming pre-marriage chastity. If the last line in the film (which I wouldn´t dream of spoiling) isn´t enough to make you barf, you´re either a rabid Twilight fan, or have slipped into a coma.
Edward is a member of the Cullen clan, who have inhabited Forks, Washington for a few years but have to move on when people start noticing they haven´t been aging. This means - yes - he must leave Bella behind. In New Moon´s most revealing scene, a camera swirls around Bella as the months pass and she longs for Edward. We see out her window: green leaves in one pass, colored, falling leaves the next, and a snow-covered landscape last. The words “October”, “November”, and “December” are plastered across the middle of the screen on each pass. Incredible.
Bella soon realizes that a vision of Edward comes in times of danger; so, naturally, she seeks out danger, turning to friendly young Native American Jacob (Tyler Lautner) for excitement. It will come as no surprise as that Jacob and his Native American buddies are werewolves - even I figured that out one movie ago (I mean, hello? they´re shirtless Indians); what will come as a surprise - nay, a shock - are the atrocious CGI werewolves that fill the screen. These characters morph into giant wolves that are a good five times the size of their human counterparts - they may as well have transformed into giant T-Rexes - using computer graphics that are at least ten years outdated, leaving the shoddy CGI of Twilight in the dust.
Well, that´s it for story. By the end of the first film, we knew where the characters stood and where all this was headed, and by the end of the second film we are right back at the same point. Plus one potential love interest. In-between there´s a whole lotta lustful glances and diary entries. “Dear Alice,” they all begin. “Let me out of this movie.”
Not having read the books, I think I can safely say the source material is pretty silly. Twilight somehow rose above this silliness, another film might have embraced the material and provided campy fun. New Moon sits uncomfortably in-between, and delivers the worst of bad movies: never good, forget that, but never bad enough to at least have some fun with. It´s an epic bore, and as a non-fan, I couldn´t have been more physically uncomfortable sitting in my seat for the duration. “Do something!” I wanted to shout at the screen.
Now fans, I presume, should dig it. There´s more backstory here, and towards the end, the film threatens to become Underworld without the action in scenes set in Italy: we get into the whole history of vampires vs. werewolves and vampire law and Volturi (royal vampire family) and everything else that fans will eat up. The Volturi characters are played by Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning and Cameron Bright (all three are pretty awful here), so we can presume they´ll be back with larger roles next time around, in a sequel I´m starting to dread.
Not that all is lost: Kristen Stewart, one of the best actresses of her generation, has carried another Twilight film singlehandedly, her star yet to be dimmed.
Lars von Trier´s Antichrist gained instant notoriety after a Cannes screening that ended in hisses and boos and everything short of vegetables hitting the screen. You hear about these things and you´re reminded of the reception of Luis Buñuel´s Un Chien Andalou, which shocked audiences in 1929 with surrealist editing and an eye-slicing scene; surely, after all these years and everything that cinema has produced, no film could be so bad or offensive or shocking.
And Antichrist isn´t. But it does go pretty far. Lest anyone wander into a screening unknowingly (spoiler alert), there are two shots towards the end of the film that few will forget, even though they may want to: an ejaculation of blood, and genital mutilation with a pair of scissors.
Until then, however, you´ll be wondering what all the fuss is about. Antichrist opens with a prologue in wonderful extreme-slow-motion B&W: He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) make love in the shower, while their son plays with a teddy bear, opens his bedroom window as snow falls in front of him, and falls to his death.
Now begins the grieving process, presented in four chapters: Grief, Pain, Despair, and The Three Beggars. You´ll note there´s no Recovery. She seems to be taking it worse than He, who is a therapist. He thinks the doctor is drowning her in pills; he´ll be able to cure her better. He makes a triangle chart of her fears: in the middle is nature, at the top a big question mark.
So naturally, He takes her to an isolated cabin in the middle of the woods to begin the healing process. It´s called Eden; I wonder if that´s a clue. An hour into the film, it´s all talk with little to maintain interest outside gorgeous cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle (who won an Oscar last year for Slumdog Millionaire) and surrealistic flourishes, including a talking fox who mouths “chaos...reigns.” It would all be unbearable if not for the slow-burn dread, the knowledge that something shocking is coming up ahead.
Then, lo and behold, a plot develops; I was more surprised at this than anything else in the movie. It´s the one thing we can grasp on to here, involving She and the son at Eden some months ago, a novel she was trying to write, and nothing less than the evil nature of women. Afterwards, you may feel this was a horribly misogynistic film, but that´s just von Trier´s biting sarcasm in regards to the usual horror-movie devices.
It´s this plotline that turns the last half hour of Antichrist into an engrossing, provoking, surrealist horror-thriller. As a whole, this is still a von Trier film, so it works more as an exercise than a narrative work; still, I was surprised by how effective - regardless of shock value - the ending was. This is nevertheless a tough sit, and while I appreciated the film I couldn´t possibly say I enjoyed it; yet it grows on the mind, and I appreciate it more now while thinking back on it, even while writing this review.
You would imagine a two-character piece would rely on its actors, and this film is no different: both Dafoe and (most impressively) Gainsbourg give immersive, fearless performances that include scenes of simulated sex (and shots of hardcore penetration that I assume employed the use of stunt doubles) that are anything but erotic. An ending scroll dedicates the film to Andrei Tarkovsky, an odd choice; Antichrist feels like it owes a lot more to Ingmar Bergman.
Perfect antidote to the film (and you´ll need one): Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus, recorded by Gainsbourg´s parents, Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg.
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