If you stay up long enough at film festivals, there's a good chance you’ll come across some hallucinatory works that may make you question if certain scenes were actually in a movie or if you just imagined them up after unholy amounts of popcorn. But some movies are just too weird to dream up. Danny Perez's nightmare fuel feature Antibirth, which premiered as part of the Sundance Film Festival's Midnight section, is a prime example. One part horror homage and three parts anti-drug PSA, the strange film mixes a small cast with a monster pregnancy, alien abductions, covert operatives, and a dynamite performance from NYC's own Natasha Lyonne (currently starring in Netflix's Orange is the New Black).
Lou (Lyonne) is a hot mess on a highway to nowhere, partying hard in a desolate town with limited distractions from her heavy drinking and drug habit. One night, an inebriated Lou is whisked off to somewhere she can’t remember, and for reasons she’s unable to figure out. But this time, her typical post-party hangover comes with a terrifying addition: a pregnancy that seems to double in size everyday. Annoyed, but still drinking heavily, Lou finds more odd things happening in her once quiet town. Was she abducted by aliens? Are there secret government agents following her? Even worse, she’s only got a few more hours before she’s going to pop from a surprise spawn.
Director Danny Perez tapped into the David Cronenberg's school of gross bodily horror to give Antibirth its ghoulish edge. The film’s spiritual mother is Cronenberg's 1979 pregnancy-from-hell horror classic The Brood. But that's not its only source of inspiration. Traces of Dario Argento can be found in Antibirth's vivid red and green lighting scheme. Once revealed, the monster looks to be the next evolutionary step for the Creature from the Black Lagoon's titular antagonist. Spanish horror is another influence, in how it’s steeped in the allegorical; Perez hides his unseen monsters for as long as possible, instead making the creepy characters Lou calls friends the true villains who feed off of her vulnerability. Likewise, as far as many previous possessed pregnancy storylines go (think Rosemary's Baby), the hell that Lou is put through stands in for the real horror of losing control of one’s body to motherhood. It’s an event she clearly didn’t want nor was prepared for, but one whose toxic lifestyle ends up bringing the monster to life.
It almost isn't fair how forcefully Natasha Lyonne steals the movie right from under everyone else in the frame. She's at ease with the blood and guts and looks to be having fun with her foul-mouthed persona. Lyonne digs her heels into Lou’s growing belly problems, really milking an extended confrontation with a giant blister. Indie cinema queen, and Lyonne's NYC counterpart, Chloë Sevigny plays Lou's party monster partner-in-crime to great effect. Horror movie veteran Meg Tilly (Body Snatchers) adds a counterbalance to Lou's cynical character as a supportive alien abductee. The pair forms an unlikely friendship in order to retrace the night Lou was immaculately impregnated.
Like its leading lady, Antibirth is a messy but fun watch. Perez channels his background as a music video director to keep the movie flowing and taking creative detours to thwart your expectations. His affinity for all things uncomfortable extends to surreal comical touches like the Chuck E. Cheese knock-off with strange Teletubbies-like characters or having Lou drink or smoke after nearly every line of dialog. For cinephiles who prefer their films to go bump in the night, beware that Antibirth may leave you with a touch of morning sickness.