Written & Directed by David Amito & Michael Laicini
The subtitle of this found-footage horror movie is “The Deadliest Film Ever Made.” I don’t think it rises to that level, but it does deliver a compelling piece of meta-fiction. The structure of the film is bookended with faux-documentary segments giving the fictional back history of Antrum and giving a slight analysis of what we see. The majority is the infamous film itself, an attempt to recreate a grindhouse tone of horror, cheap and nasty, with hints of potentially real danger.
The opening moments of this film do their best to evoke a sense of malevolence about the proceedings. Warnings come on the screen, telling the viewer to turn away now. We get interviews with “film experts” and file footage of theater fires and victims of the dastardly movie. The mystery of who made Antrum and where it disappeared to is kept secret. Then we get to the feature presentation, Antrum itself. The film follows a teenage girl and her little brother who have gone out into the woods to dig into Hell. The brother believes that his recently deceased dog has been consigned to the infernal and wants to save her. His sister apparently is going right along, bringing a grimoire that contains prayers and incantations to protect them as they descend.
This is a slow burn film, focused on building atmosphere and unsettling an audience rather than nauseating them. The droning music is effective and feels period-accurate, as do the clothes. The one element that hurt my ability to hold my disbelief is that this was obviously shot in the modern era and given a digital film grain to recreate the look of old media. Yes, it would be economically prohibitive to make this low budget feature on expensive vintage film stock, but if you are someone who pays attention to those details, it is a pretty big one.
I did enjoy the way Hell is presented. Rather than seeing firey pits or pitchforks, the atmosphere around the woods changes. The sky darkens a little with each layer passed, and the kids encounter strange people and beings as they do their work. I really liked the third act twist that is then twisted on itself. There are some genuinely unsettling moments in the picture, one is a flashback to a few days prior where the little boy encounters a sinister presence behind a local restaurant. That reminded me of that chilling moment in Mulholland Drive, where we meet a nasty creature behind a diner dumpster.
I applaud the film’s total commitment to its concept. The filmmakers understand the found footage genre a little better than most, knowing that not every entry into the genre has to be shaky camcorder or cellphone footage. I am a sucker for the haunted movie/television show/broadcast genre. It’s a very modern variation on old archetypes and stories, and I find it genuinely scary when done well. If you are looking for some reading in this vein, I’d recommend Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt and Lost Signals. The latter is an excellent anthology of creepy transmissions discovered by people who come to regret them.