By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE
Written and Directed by David Amito and Michael Laicini
Cinema, of all art forms, has a reputation for doing some extended navel gazing. You need look no further than those films about films and filmmaking; not only are filmmakers writing what they know, the audience has a vested interest as well. When we bring this reflexive idea to genre cinema, we get a film capable of killing, as in ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE.
ANTRUM has several layers to the plot. At first glance, it is a mockumentary about a legendary film that literally kills those who watch it. This fabled murderous movie had only been shown twice theatrically, prior to which it garnered a reputation for making corpses of those who watched it. At first its victims were film festival programmers, but then the first public display started fires throughout the theater. Much like FURY OF THE DEMON, this portion features on screen interviews with “film scholars” and horror enthusiasts who have all collected the oral history of the deadly film.
The second layer, which takes up the majority of ANTRUM’s running time, is the killer film itself. That’s right, we get to see the fatal film in its entirety. Periodic interruptions by stark black-and-white images of gore and torture are a disruptive contrast to the 1970s earth tones of the main event. The film within a film itself centers around a young brother and sister who have run away from home. Their pup, Maxine, has passed away recently, and the brother wants nothing more than to make sure that she finds peace. His sister loves him to pieces and wants to do whatever she can. Almost incomprehensibly, she hatches the plan to dig their way to hell, recite some incantations, and send Maxine to the good place.
The siblings’ journey into the woods and tampering with the natural balance of heaven and hell sets ANTRUM up for some downright creepy situations. Through the atmospheric storytelling and slow, contemplative look at their time together in the woods, it is clear that not is all as it seems on their camping trip. Not only do the woods themselves hold some secrets, but it becomes clear that these kids are tampering with forces far beyond what they understand.
The story-within-a-story mockumentary might seem gimmicky, and the plot might sound like something you have seen before, but ANTRUM heads into far darker places than the hole these two kids set to digging. Anchors of reality and mythology that audiences traditionally cling to are not given here. At any given moment the game can change, and it often does. And those distracting flashes of non-diegetic torture pieces only serve to remind us we are watching something that we should not be.
Tense and unnerving, unpredictable and mean spirited, ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE adds layers to the terrifying power of cinema.