After its first five minutes, Danny Perez’s Antibirth is propelled only by burnout partier Lou’s (Natasha Lyonne) drive to find out what happened to her after she blacked out one night at a warehouse party. Spurred on by her rapidly worsening health from what may have transpired that night, Lou and another woman, Lorna (Meg Tilly), begin to run afoul of drug dealers, along with people who seem to appear literally out of the darkness, revealing little about themselves. This, Lou comes to learn, is the mysterious underworld of her remote (and unnamed) town, where drug dealers work in tandem with darker forces to make mincemeat of listless young women.
Antibirth suggests a throwback to the science fiction or intellectual horror that was commonplace at the movies in the 1970s and ’80s, where the disease of mass consumption and the corporate machine wreaked physical turmoil on vulnerable characters. The film could charitably be described as the pessimistic inverse of Midnight Special, whose effects-driven sci-fi was sketched onto a lithe and mournful drama about the pains and sacrifices of parenthood in a world into which you would not want to bring a child. Jeff Nichols’s film dealt with people in the wake of leaving a cult, and it felt rooted in the real world. So, too, does Antibirth, whose subplot about a drug dealer buying and mixing dangerous cocktails of crudely assembled chemicals reminds us of ghastly real-world attacks such drugs have caused. But where Midnight Special’s sci-fi elements function as an affirmation of family and love against the degradation of the real world, Antibirth’s own genre elements suggest the logical outcome of that same degradation.
Both Midnight Special and Antibirth make conspicuous use of analog technology. Lou has an answering machine and a boxy old television—objects of a bygone cinematic era that are a reflection of how technology in remote parts of the world is perpetually playing catch-up. But this isn’t a particularly developed thread, as the answering machine primarily exists to pipe in exposition about who Lou’s worrying friends are, or how she’s saddled with calls from creditors. And this corner-cutting is typical of many of the film’s choices throughout, such as a plethora of dream sequences that lean hard on depicting the dark sides of hallucinogenic drugs and seek to scare viewers with life-sized animal costumes and riffs on bizarre TV spots.
Antibirth proves its mettle in its less metaphorically saddled and aesthetically bloviating moments, speaking hard truths about decayed rural worlds. In a climactic scene, Lou is confronted by a mysterious person responsible for her torments, who asks the young woman, in a clumsy setup symptomatic of this film: “What kind of life do you want to continue living?” Undeterred, and while pouring shots on her kitchen counter, Lou responds: “Maybe one without you nagging me all the time.” It’s unfortunate that the only part of the film that works does so by taking the wind out of the rest of it.