Thursday, May 6, 2021

‘Antrum’ brings a new take to found-footage horror

At the turn of the century, the horror genre was transformed with “The Blair Witch Project.” With a production budget of only $60,000, the genius of the film really lay in the marketing. Without decent internet at the time, the film — that was perceived to be an actual documentary and not a clever horror movie — became a sensation and made more than $200 million worldwide. Writer-directors David Amito and Michael Laicini have taken inspiration from “Blair Witch” by making a movie that is marketed as a film that is cursed and that those who watch it will die afterward.

“Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made” is bookended by interview-based documentary footage explaining the rumors surrounding “Antrum.” Supposedly, “Antrum” was produced in the 1970s and lost to time. The film had been publicly screened only twice, one screening resulted in the theater burning down in 1988, and another incited the audience into a riot in 1993. According to the narrator, Lucy Rayner, the producers located a copy of the film at an estate auction in Connecticut.

After an explanation of what “Antrum” is, the main attraction plays. The story of “Antrum” is very stripped down. A boy and his sister go camping to dig a hole in the woods in hopes of bringing back their recently deceased dog.

Unfortunately for these innocent kids, this hole is actually a portal to hell, and it leads to nightmarish scenarios and visions.

As an exercise in style, “Antrum” works well. The ominous atmosphere of watching this supposedly dug up feature feels convincing. Although it’s not specified in the credits, it feels like it was shot on film. The picture quality is grainy and dark. There are moments where you have to squint your eyes and ask if there really is something in the corner of the frame. Editor Michael Laicini superimposes triangles and upside-down pentagrams for just fractions of a second, which could come off as either distracting or disorienting, but both of these emotions work for what the directors are trying to achieve.

The directors casted the documentary portion of the movie well. They bring in a handful of non-actors such as a film philosopher, a professor of theology and a sound technician. The creators do bring in a sense of logos. The sound technician talks about how the film has two different frequencies in the left and right audio track and the psychological effect that could elicit.

If this did come out in the late ‘90s during a time where you couldn’t go onto IMDb and look up the actors’ names and see that they would not be alive when “Antrum” was reportedly made, the whole experience would be nerve-racking.

When compared to blockbuster-level horror films like “The Conjuring” series or “It Chapter Two,” this creativity has to be appreciated. However, you should not go in with the expectation of getting those jump scares as it emphasizes the creepy atmosphere. If you want to test out the blend of horror “Antrum” offers, “The Beaning” directed by Sean McCoy utilizes similar approaches to cinematography and editing.

“Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made” is not a seamless act, and in this age of the internet, it probably would never be able to be pulled off perfectly. You can’t blame Amito and Laicini for trying. It is a creepy breath of fresh air.

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