Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made, 2018.
Directed by David Amito and Michael Laicini.
Starring Nicole Tompkins, Rowan Smyth, Dan Istrate and Circus-Szalewski.
This mockumentary tells the story of a 1970s horror movie uncovered after decades of notoriety, following a series of mysterious deaths.
Overblown stories about movies being “cursed” are always entertaining. The recent Shudder documentary series Cursed Films explored this in detail, uncovering the truth behind some of the most notorious movie set stories. New horror Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made takes that idea and runs with it, concocting a fictional mythology for the titular movie within a movie. The result is a huge set of expectations, which Antrum isn’t ever able to match.
The opening is brilliant, with directing duo David Amito and Michael Laicini helming a documentary outlining the savage history of Antrum. After the movie was made in the 1970s, everyone at a screening in Budapest burned to death in a spontaneous combustion event, while numerous festival programmers who saw the film also died in mysterious circumstances. Horror fans have only seen snatches of the notorious movie over the years, but it has now been uncovered and the documentary crew is going to show it. In a brilliantly creepy touch, an on-screen disclaimer provides a 30-second countdown to the main event, giving worried viewers the chance to scarper.
Sadly, what follows isn’t even close to the mythical nightmare promised by the opening. Instead, it’s a strange, grainy chiller in which siblings Oralee (Nicole Tompkins) and Nathan (Rowan Smyth) dig a big hole in the forest. Their goal is to free the recently deceased family dog from hell, with Oralee hoping the big gesture will allow her younger brother to achieve some closure. They’re both plagued by visions of hell, demons and actual cannibals as they attempt first to carry out their ritual and, secondly, to get the heck out of the woods.
Antrum is rather a victim of the hype it creates for itself. It was always going to be difficult for the film within a film to match up to what the introduction promised, but this strange homage to weird 1970s folk horror – there’s a lot of Wicker Man in its DNA – really falls short. It’s an ambling, misshapen trudge that would have very little going for it without the genuinely excellent framing device used to give it the killer selling point that will get audiences through the door.
There are too many ideas at play in the movie and the restrictions of a slightly shonky-looking, 35mm love letter to rough around the edges 70s horror don’t do it any favours. Subliminal flashes of demonic symbols are initially effective, but their impact diminishes once it becomes clear they’re going to come to nothing in the grand scheme of things. The same is true of vignettes of a monochrome snuff film, apparently inserted into the print by bad actors unknown, which are too few and far between to ever make any real impact on the audience.
It’s frustrating that Antrum falls so short, given the heights from which it begins. Ultimately, though, the mockumentary structure seems to simply be a way to smuggle a very subpar horror movie into the world, using the clothing of something far more interesting. But for a handful of creepy images, there’s little to chill the blood. A bit of spontaneous combustion in my living room might have livened things up a little.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.