Many horror films tend to be about more than is apparent on a surface level. Antibirth, the narrative feature debut of experimental video artist Danny Perez, is an addict’s drug-fuelled pregnancy through the prism of a psychedelic body-horror nightmare. It is a safe bet no one will expect the wacked-out, royally bananas goings-on of this half-baked fever dream, but at one point or another, a film needs to have more to it than a trippy, “what-the-hell-am-I-watching?” vibe.
Lou (Natasha Lyonne) doesn’t get through one day without drugs, alcohol and junk food. She’s on a lifelong bender, cleaning at a motel by day and getting wasted whether she’s out or at home in her late father’s trailer that she inherited. Even after a wild rave in the Michigan woods with best friend Sadie (Chloë Sevigny), Lou fails to remember what happened that begins making her feel ill. Soon enough, she realizes she might be pregnant, suffering morning sickness and blowing up like a blimp at an alarming rate, despite not having slept with anyone in months. A military vet named Lorna (Meg Tilly) shows up and lets Lou in on a medical experiment conspiracy that might be afoot. Lou is not going to be all right.
Dancing furries in a kid’s bowling alley. An alien conspiracy. Pus-oozing blisters. The birth of a creature crossed between a wookie and the demonic mutant offspring in Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive. All of these disparate images and plot points only muddy the waters for the sake of being weird and, thus, keep the viewer at arm’s length. Were it not difficult to warm to already,with an inscrutable, stream-of-conscious narrative, Antibirth doesn’t really care if we like its obnoxious protagonist or not. By no fault of Natasha Lyonne, who gives it her all with sardonic recklessness, Lou is decidedly flawed and hard-edged as a burnout; a role Perez wrote directly for the actress. However, she is also too passive and consistently self-destructive to care about her abnormal plight. It is almost preferable to see a character who is far from being squeaky-clean and likeable that gradually has to earn our sympathy. Still, in the case of Lou, she isn’t even interestingly vulgar.
As Sadie, Chloë Sevigny doesn’t have quite as much to do, but her chemistry with Lyonne is undeniable as if Lou and Sadie have been friends for two decades, just like the actors playing them. On the flip side, Meg Tilly (who’s nice to see back on the big screen since 1993’s Body Snatchers) brings nurturing warmth along with a badass strength and maybe an insane streak as Lorna.
Antibirth is entirely writer-director Danny Perez’s baby. As a directorial calling card, Perez brings his own filmmaking language and has an eye for grungy, sinister, even grotesque imagery that has never been seen before. However, his plotting is of the meandering, throw-everything-at-the-wall-