Antrum (translated: “entrance to Hell”) is by far one of the strangest films I’ve seen this year, perhaps second only to Ari Aster’s Midsommar. It’s a very simple story, but the execution is flawlessly effective, and the creative team behind the film knows how to do more with less.
The movie’s like a gift in many ways, including the interesting designer wrapping paper that teases the shape of the present within. The movie begins with a semi-convincing series of interviews and facts about the film, presenting the narrative itself as an unearthed film that’s known in the underground for the curse it carries. Although some viewers may be turned off by this wraparound, I enjoyed the immersive experience which these interviews and “historical facts” provided.
Prior to the narrative portion of the movie (i.e., the cursed film Antrum), we are warned one last time about the film’s violent history, and a 30-second legal disclaimer and a 10-second countdown builds up anticipation until it’s almost unbearable.
The story of Antrum is fairly simple. A small family’s dog is euthanized after biting a child, and the younger sibling in the family, Nathan (played by Rowan Smyth), is convinced the dog is in Hell. He is haunted by nightmares involving the afterlife, and in a well-meaning effort to help Nathan, his sister Oralee (played by Nicole Tompkins), tells him she has a book that can help them dig a hole to Hell and rescue their dog.
The story begins innocently enough, and we can see how Oralee manipulates her brother’s imagination to convince him her tale is true. There’s no malevolence in what she’s doing; she just wants her brother’s nightmares to stop, and she believes digging a fake hole to Hell and then "discovering" a dog collar (which she’d previously hidden) will bring him a sense of catharsis.
However, the lines between fantasy and reality are quickly blurred, and the audience is left to wonder…did Oralee and Nathan unwittingly enter Hell?
Few movies I’ve seen carry the same genuine feeling of malice as Antrum. A lot of it has to do with subliminal images popping up throughout the film, sigils and visual references which distort how we view certain moments. Whether or not these visual cues affect you depends on how suggestible you are and whether or not you’ve bought in to the lore surrounding the meat of the film.
The sound designer on Antrum, Alicia Fricker, deserves a great deal of credit for the film’s overall effect. I felt an overall sense of anxiety throughout Antrum, and the soundtrack, which cleverly utilizes binaural beats, is as integral to Antrum as Bobby Beausoleil’s soundtrack was to Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising.
Overall, I feel that Antrum is a pretty effective movie with an interesting approach. It’s beautifully shot, and the visual aesthetic lends itself to the lore of the film and the sense of impending doom.
In addition to viewing the film, I had the privilege of speaking with one of the stars of Antrum, Nicole Tompkins, who plays Oralee. With Tompkins’ insight, perhaps we can dig further into the mystery of the world’s most dangerous film.
Crypt Teaze: Can you tell me a little bit about Antrum and the lore surrounding it?
Nicole Tompkins: Yeah, Antrum’s a really special piece. It tells the story of two siblings that decide to dig a hole to Hell to rescue their dog because the youngest brother believes his dog has gone to Hell. Antrum is specifically very unique because the movie itself is made as a 1970’s film and it’s surrounded by a documentary about the lore of this film, because it has a reputation for being a very dangerous film. Those that have seen it have experienced tragedies and death all from having seen the movie.
CT: How do you go about preparing for a role in a film like this?
NT: It really was a matter of working with some incredible people who really knew what they were doing when they came forward with this story. So for me personally, I was able to really relate to Oralee because everything that she does throughout the film is out of a place of love for her brother, even though she’s manipulating him. I really enjoyed diving into the concepts behind creating a world with the intention to really scare someone or have them believe something specific, and then getting so immersed in the world that you’ve created that you’re no longer able to tell the difference between reality and your imagination.
CT: One of the movie’s interviewees talks about how art is most concerned with "lasting impact." What movie or artwork has had a lasting impact on you?
NT: Oh, there are so many movies that have had a lasting impact with me, just because I think the cinematic language in general is incredibly impactful. I really love the psychiatric thrillers that drift into fantasy. How do I pick just one? Hmm…I really love The Shining, a Kubrick classic that has such powerful performances, and the visuals really play with the audiences fears even though the visuals themselves aren’t necessarily incredibly graphic. It’s so intense, and I love how it plays back and forth with including the audience in the movie they’re watching, which I feel is something Antrum does, another reason I loved being part of this movie so much.
CT: Do you believe in curses? If so, have you ever had any experiences with the supernatural?
NT: I think that’s kind of what the film asks itself. We had experiences with the supernatural just on the set of the movie. We had some really crazy environmental happenstances when we were filming. We’d be in the middle of a shot, and the sun would change so drastically and cast a very specific shadow over one part of the frame that was impactful to the storyline. One of those shots shows up in the movie, along with so many other interesting and creepy visuals throughout the film itself. When Oralee’s reciting her "incantation," you see her go dark on screen, and that happened on the day of filming when she’s helping her brother enter Hell. It really helped create a beautiful and eerie environment.
CT: Is there anything else you’d like to add about Antrum?
I think people will enjoy Antrum because it’s a bit of a "haunted house" experience. The more you’re willing to go in and question your own beliefs about the power of fear and the power of imagination, the more you’re going to pick up on how the film operates on different layers. I think that’s really special when a film has a lot of Easter eggs, and if you keep looking you’ll find something different every time…if you live past the first screening!