Hallucinogenic body horror flick Antibirth is a stomach-roiling kaleidoscope of mindfuck terrors and shock-induced howls, an experience so bizarre, so brain-frying, you’ll stumble off the ride and immediately want to go again. Danny Perez’s feature film debut is a triumph of disgust and primal feminist rage, a dream fever that questions what a drug-fueled threesome between Rosemary’s Baby, The Fly, and late-night Adult Swim programming might produce.
The gloriously foul-mouthed Natasha Lyonne (my personal choice for America’s Sweetheart), stars as Lou, a hard-partying battleaxe most at home in a fishnet body suit, clutching her bong and swigging from a liquor bottle. She lives in a cluttered tin shack on the edge of small, desolate Michigan town where everything, including the people, have gone to seed. Her best friend, Sadie (Chloe Sevigny), has the air of a deflated high school sexpot who never left her hometown, now desperate enough to shack up with local scuzzbag pimp and small-potatoes drug honcho, Gabriel (Mark Weber, simultaneously frightening and unctuous.) We open on bonfire revelry at a derelict Rust Belt industrial site, a gaggle of drunk and stoned 30-somethings headbanging to fill the void. It’s a gorgeously-shot tableau of utter abandon until we witness our heroine, blitzed out of her mind, dragged out of the party against her will by a man she trusts. It’s an image we’ve all seen before on screen, a prelude to horrific violation. In the next scenes, when Lou and Sadie wonder, cautiously, whether Lou’s strange symptoms imply pregnancy, they both balk. “I haven’t been laid in six months!” And yet, Lou’s stomach doubles in size every day.
Lyonne owns this film, her craggy, cigarette-worn charm lighting up the screen with every guffaw-inducing crack, but the unsung performer of the film may be Meg Tilly, a treat in her first film role in 22 years. She plays the grizzled Lorna, a former soldier-turned-soul mama and paranoid vagrant who teams up with Lou to provide the kind of doula services only an alien abductee could offer a mutant pregnancy.
The film, behind its vivid gore and manic temperament, is a stark reminder of the state of reproductive justice in the United States: namely, you’re only entitled to an abortion if you’re rich. Lou, a character Lyonne herself describes as a “wastoid,” can’t even come to grips with how to take care of herself, let alone another being in her toxic body. The thought of terminating the pregnancy or even impending motherhood barely graze her mind as she attempts to figure out what the hell actually happened to her. Antibirth‘s façade may be balls-to-the-wall, fluids-and-all maelstrom, but underneath the surface is a political allegory elucidating post-Pax Americana hopelessness and the necrotic addictions eating our nation alive. What’s more revolting? Spew and goo or societal destruction from the inside out?