It wouldn’t be impractical to compare ANTIBIRTH, the messy (in more ways than one) feature debut from accomplished visual artist Danny Perez, to the unexpectedly PCP-laced joint or to the scatter-brained B-side to a profoundly psychedelic experience. Indeed, it’s precisely this kind of abnormal out-of-body ambiance that the film aspires to; evoking heavy shades of David Lynch, Cronenberg and many others as it stretches its admittedly thin concept to grotesque, kaleidoscopic extremes.
Brimming with all sorts of hazy, shamelessly abrasive potential from frame one, this grungy yarn concerns the plight of wayward trouble-maker Lou (Natasha Lyonne), who wakes up one morning after a night of heavy hedonism to the most sickening sensations. These are later discovered – first, by Lou’s best friend Sadie (Chloe Sevigny) – to be the symptoms of pregnancy, but neither of the two can recall the events which transpired that previous evening.
There are at least a dozen movies attempting to co-exist here, but taking precedence over most others – at least for a while – is the hang out picture. The viewer assumes a sort of sleazy fly-on-the-wall perspective for roughly the first half of the surreal narrative, watching as Lou’s situation get worse and the she engages in mundane daily routine. Suddenly, disturbing visions of obscured memories begin to plague the poor party-goer’s mind, and upon the arrival of a peculiar old woman (Meg Tilly, delightfully bat-shit) in the small mid-west town, things take an unexpectedly twisted turn.
Perez is probably best known for his collaborations over the years with Animal Collective, in which he provided the band’s heady tunes with an appropriately imaginative visual companion (see the excellent and often overwhelmingly terrifying “visual album” ODDSAC from 2010), so it’s no secret that his first foray into more grounded narrative work would be an ambitious one. Like that earlier film, ANTIBIRTH dabbles almost exclusively in gross body horror and Perez certainly has the means of dishing it out when the time comes, which is – rather unfortunately – too late in the game.
Allowing for a better understanding of his past work, one might get the sense that Perez is more interested in exceedingly strange ideas and imagery than he is in people. This doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, but when the anti-heroine of the director’s abstracted world is one-dimensional at best and insufferable at worst, and those around her aren’t much better off, a gory good time then becomes an unnecessary struggle to locate anything of genuine substance. One could argue that the film’s indifferent attitude is embedded in its punk DNA, but when it accumulates to something as frequently unfunny, off-putting and shoddily constructed as this, it can be best chocked up to sheer ineptitude.
As expected, Perez is able to cook up some spectacular moments throughout – the idea of a quiet Michigan town teeming with experimental military activity and extraterrestrial conspiracy is an enticing one, and that sound design is pretty neat – but his stylistic flourishes end up being more debilitating – and, dare I say, amateurish – than exhilarating (the sequences set in the “Fun Zone”, a family-friendly pizzeria seemingly converted from an aging dive bar, are a fine example of this). Where it clearly wants to revel in oddity and excess, the film remains stagnant and can barely stay afloat, meandering on an already fairly weak foundation. It’s a leisurely, sedated, albeit colorful descent to whatever lies beneath the bottom of the barrel; you’re free to take that as you will, but the effort it requires to find something even vaguely inspiring isn’t really worth it.