Wednesday 21 October 2020

Enter the void: "Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made"

You may not have heard of Antrum, the Soviet film of 1977 about two youngsters who accidentally open up a portal to Hell while digging in the woods, but it trails quite the reputation: after sparking a fire at a Budapest cinema on first run, it then brought about a fatal stampede during a one-off engagement in San Francisco, and has been connected to the mysterious deaths of several festival programmers besides. The reason you haven't heard of it - the reason you won't find it in Halliwell's - is that it doesn't exist: it's a wholly fictitious artefact, conjured up by Canadian writer-directors David Amito and Michael Laicini for the purposes of a wannabe midnight movie that riffs on the legend of the "cursed film", as others have on cursed books or videotapes. The legend has been curated here with a measure of care. The Deadliest Film Ever Made opens with a mini-doc laying out the Antrum backstory, then - after a Gaspar Noe-like onscreen countdown offering concerned patrons the chance to leave the cinema (or, more likely in 2020, their own front room) - we get a look at the film itself, set out in artfully distressed images that gesture in the direction of late Tarkovsky, early Sokurov or Thatcher-era public information films, complete with cigarette burns to denote reel changes, and sporadic bouts of subliminal imagery à la The Exorcist. Here, alas, is where the project reveals its hand as obvious fakery.

The biggest giveaway is that, despite its grainy print quality, what's onscreen during the film-within-the-film never looks especially Slavic: its sundappled hills and capacious parking lots are undisguisably North American, while a Soviet film of '77 strikes me as unlikely to have "very special thanks" laid out in English credits. Juvenile leads Nicole Tompkins and Rowan Smyth are also far too blonde-haired and bright-eyed to convince as Eastern European moppets of the late 70s: if Amito and Laicini really wanted to dupe us, there needed to be fewer smoothies at craft services, and far more gruel. (Sometimes the Devil really is in the detail.) Enter into the spirit of it, and it gives up about as much fun as might be obtained this Hallowe'en from a Hasbro-brand ouija board: a half-hour's worth of thin, plasticky diversion, before the novelty wears off and everything turns deathly in the less critical sense. Even by the standards of late 70s art cinema, Amito and Laicini's pacing is trying, while any high-satanic seriousness is swiftly undermined by nerdy sniggering. The stopmotion squirrel is a nice touch; the dead moose-fucking less so. 24 hours after watching Antrum, I can report no deleterious effects, save a vague sense of an afternoon wasted, but then after the murder hornets and the deadly respiratory virus, so-so sleepover fare seems a long way down on the list of things we have to worry about right now.

Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made opens at the Premiere Cinema in Romford this Friday, ahead of its DVD release on October 26.

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