Burnouts, pregnancy and aliens – Antibirth is a twisted concoction of “WTF” puzzle-piecing drenched in prenatal paranoia. Filmmaker Danny Perez keeps us guessing through second-hand-haziness, as his stoner prophecy plays like a bad trip caught on film. The entire rabbit hole is built on munchie runs and bong hits, but as Perez’s characters stay sufficiently buzzed, a larger story turns into sci-fi weirdness supplied in tablet form. Drugs act as a foreshadowing mechanism in themselves, hinting at far-out conclusions that no rational mind would calmly predict – even with all the flashy lights, neon costumes and experimental narcotics.
All well and good, except for the fact that I was entirely too sober for whatever the hell Antibirth is laying down.
Natasha Lyonne stars as Lou, a strung-out party girl who wakes up with pains and aches after a particularly blurry night. As Lou attempts to recall what nastiness she got herself involved in, her symptoms worsen. All signs point to pregnancy, but that’s impossible – Lou hasn’t had sex for months.
Best friend Sadie (Chloë Sevigny) does her best to check on Lou, but when Sadie’s ties to local drug dealer Gabriel (Mark Webber) are revealed, Lou begins to suspect foul play. Alcohol and magical blackouts are one way to deal with life’s problems, but it’s too bad that you can’t drink away a freakishly formed baby bump that pops almost overnight.
Shades of Kevin Smith propel this stanky descent into a strobe-flashing hell, as Lyonne and Sevigny carry many scenes through nothing but druggie banter. Two chicks, sitting around wasted while munching on donuts and talking about shape-shifting superhumans. Drug usage clouds every facet of Antibirth, from smokey screen-wipes to a new street drug that’s infecting inhabitants of Lou’s desolate hometown. Lyonne is a firecracker who builds a strong enough repertoire with Sevigny through these giggle-fit exchanges, but some conversations meander through Dumbsville even though psychedelic hallucinations do add a zesty intrigue.
It doesn’t take long to understand that Perez’s strengths favor visual distortion, by way of frantic vibrancy. Many scenes are torn from a wicked funhouse, catching a swirl of colors in rotating lenses and flashing bursts of light that daze and dazzle. Whenever Lou falls into her trippy nightmare world, you can expect aggressive reality mashing and Perez’s ambitious brand of pop-color insanity – but a tremendous lack of cohesion.
Characters might be mid-dialogue, only to have Lou randomly interrupt with another daydream that’s narrated by carefully-placed television programming. It’s the kind of movie where you aren’t shocked by a costumed mascot performing OBGYN procedures on Leo, only to reveal a Xenomorphic form inside her stomach (albeit a dream) – yet that doesn’t mean you still don’t question it all. Perez has style for days, but falls victim to many pitfalls of “style over substance” directors of yesteryear. Flashy, but empty.
I’d be lying if I said Antibirth lacks intrigue. It doesn’t. As Lou ignorantly shrugs off her deteriorating physical state, you can’t help but appreciate her continued self-destruction by way of toxin abuse. Her devotion to partying is somewhat admirable, and her hip-fire wit establishes Lebowski-esque charms. Perez faces no challenges with performers, instead stumbling when he embraces “music video filmmaking” that favors short, explosive jolts of visual provocativeness – not a flowing story you walk away from feeling fulfilled. Antibirth is a shattered disco ball of preggo madness, splattered with blood and unmotivated loneliness. Yeah, let’s go with that.
This is one for the arthouse wackos out there who love a good modern-absurdist watch. You’re in for a ride with Antibirth, that’s a fact. What that ride means is completely your take, but more conventional movie fans will have a tough time seeing Danny Perez’s film as an upper, and not a downer. Perverse, pitch-black and plenty off-color – Antibirth will find its audience, but not with those expecting more out of such a wafer-thin plot. Even Nic Winding Refn couldn’t pull this neon demon together…
Antibirth has so many moments that flash what Danny Perez is capable of, but none of them come together in the end.