Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made

Cursed films have reared their heads throughout the horror genre for years, from The Omen in 1976 to The Blair Witch Project in 1999. These films thrive on the fear and tension that comes from their very being and, while we now live in such a high-speed online world where fact checking renders the rumours of cursed films more difficult to effectively pull off, they still show up in their plenty. The latest comes with Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made from writer-directors David Amito and Michael Laicini. Less a film trying to trick you into believing its foul-history, Antrum is an eerie success in telling a horror story about horror stories. 

“Is she in heaven?” asks Nathan (Rowan Smyth) to his mother after leaving the vets where the family dog, Maxine, has just been euthanised for undisclosed reasons. “No, she was bad,”she replies, much to the shock of older sibling Oralee (Nicole Tompkins). Oralee, later claiming to have found a grimoire, takes Nathan camping in a local forest, infamous as a place of suicides, to dig a hole to hell in order to redeem Maxine’s soul and give Nathan the peace he needs to mourn and move on. As they incant the grimoire’s rituals and follow it’s instruction, the two begin to delve through the layers of hell as the forest gets darker around them.

Sandwiching this basic premise lies a short ‘documentary’ that provides you with a basic history surrounding the curse of the film: showing Antrum screenings bursting into flames, several festival judges dying hours after watching the film, and audiences being spiked with LSD resulting in horrifying brawls and stampedes. It’s an incredibly risky decision, opening with talking heads depicting film theorists, philosophers and historians, all telling you how terrifying and spectacular Antrum is, and it is a risk that doesn’t completely pay off. The film climbs and crescendos at an easy pace, relying on atmosphere rather than frights, in a way that will turn many horror fans off. 

One of the opening interviewees says that when watching Antrum “You don’t jump out of your seat with scares, but it gets under your skin.” It’s a great summary of where the film wants to take you. Its attempts to authentically recreate the ’70s horror aesthetic are effective, reminiscent almost of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in how it captures the ominous orange hues of the outdoors. The soundscape composed by Alicia Fricker ensures that you are held by an unsettling feeling, making up for the general lack of scares. Mostly, it is the performances from child actor Smyth that maintains the deeply weird and ominous nature of the film that is so important in keeping you from switching off. 

Smyth is the typical uncanny child. Oralee is oblivious to the shadows lurking in the surrounding forest and the sounds of hell announcing that they’re reached the next layer. As the audience, we see all these things. But Nathan sees them too. His awareness is unnerving, his childish naivety and simple desire to save his dog is juxtaposed by this connection to hell itself. Opposite him, Tompkins too gives a fantastic performance. As Oralee’s plans unfold you learn that everything she does is for her brother, out of care and distress, as she watches him suffering nightmares every time he falls asleep, believing Maxine to be in pain. Their chemistry is really great to watch and the casting director must be given credit where’s due as the two even look like they could be related.

Viewed as a horror film alone, Antrum is weak, but I don’t believe it was ever meant solely to scare. The documentary frame asks you to reflect on cursed films, to think critically about them. As the credits roll the ‘producers’ who found the lost film break down why it could cause spectators to have such extreme reactions. They look at the binaural sound design and the sigils overlaid onto the film. They end with a final piece of dialogue from a film philosopher declaring his absolute faith in the way film has the power to “Make you believe something into being true.” And if that isn’t a poignant comment on cursed films and the horror genre itself, I don’t know what is. 

Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made is released in UK cinemas on October 23 before arriving on DVD and digital from October 26.

Alex Dewing

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

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