Starring: Anya Korzun, Danielle Arden, Andrew Jardine
Directed by: Mark Robins and Luke Gietzen
Written by: Mark Robins
Running time: 1 hour 53 minutes
Reviewed by Dan Oles
Antihuman opens with a title sequence similar to an Italian Giallo film, reproducing the lead actress’ terrified face in several colors accompanied by a thrumming minimalistic score, and from this introduction you might expect a taught thriller or a psychological horror brewing. The movie to follow in comparison is closer to performance art in front of a camera. For extended periods of time actors will pose like frozen statues while the camera barely moves so they can deliver rambling dialogue which covers many themes but never really justifies them.
The film begins with the story of Maggie and her caretaker and friend Peggy. Maggie is suffering some kind of terminal disease which has the symptoms of a deteriorating mental state, and perhaps ironically her last wish is to visit the asylum where her mother used to work. This, along with a seemingly superfluous cast of other women accompanying, makes you think that the film is gearing up for a body count but without spoilers this film is far more content with surrealist imagery and longwinded monologues than it is concerned with horror elements. The initial concept of a young woman struggling with a mortal ailment, whose haunting visions could be the last product of a decaying mind was compelling, but a lot of good will I had for Antihuman was used up by the constant dragging pace in which very little happens. It would be one thing if the themes presented in the character’s exchanges while they camp or very slowly explore the asylum had consistency, but this is where an accusation of pretentiousness can be leveled. I tried to follow the thread of concept from the reoccurring motif of nuclear war fears, turn of the century conspiracies about mind alteration, existential ennui about whether or not life or death is meaningless, musings about friendship and loyalty: I could not come up with the uniting notion behind these ideas. It seemed like the film was content to bring up issues, play with them for awhile, and then toss them away to examine something else without as much as a through-line. This is an art film that sometimes pretends to be a very tame horror film. As wrapped up as it becomes in unexplained flights of fancy and beat-poetry segments in which characters look into the camera and recite nonsensical soliloquies it ceases to be about anything character driven. It’s a stream of consciousness that doesn’t even amount to a mystery as in conclusion most notions broached are forgotten or just never fully explained.
The character of Walker played by Andrew Jardine is not so much a character as a vehicle for yet more expositing, but Andrew like his fellow stars is a decent actor and lends a sense of gravitas to his performance aided by his posh English accent. Anya Korzun as the lead Maggie sometimes speaks in Russian on occasion which is intriguing but like so many things is not explored very well and happens so infrequently, apart from her slightly labored way of speaking, you forget that she’s bilingual. The other women as mentioned are decent actors but they have very little to do. This is not a film in which a lot happens all at once.
If the acting is decent however the special effects are flat out bad. The major issue is that the computer imagery is so stock and recognizably cheap an generic that it’s very distracting. In one instance gouts of blood issue from characters for no reason, but those gouts are very clearly a common built in effect for a popular software program which anyone familiar with internet videos especially has seen hundreds of times before. The bright red spirally mushroom clouds in a dream sequence were so vague only the context and sound effects indicated what they were, there’s some really amateur green screen effects. And the less said about a sequence of a blatantly copy-pasted repeat of flying birds the better. There are some decent practical effects. A strange figure with gruesome makeup looks fine and there’s a nifty skeletal bird prop at one point. The camerawork is not very immersive, alternating between lingering static shots with little composition and too many cuts which sometimes has characters appearing to jump around the set. The music starts out haunting and atmospheric but after the seventh or so time it repeats it did become monotonous.
Apart from a few intellectually intriguing questions raised, Antihuman has little to separate it from an off-broadway play in which characters mutter expressionless about whatever the artist was deeply concerned about while standing very still. The sheer number of unrelated themes becomes exhausting, especially when each is delivered so dryly over lengthy segments of not-much occurring. The dream sequence seems unrelated to other events. A character mentions that a ghostly army of revenge-driven forces is coming to burn down the asylum…but this never happens. A conversation warns against humans turned into monsters by insidious mental conditioning…and this is never brought up again. Antihuman is a loose collection of beguiling notions in search of a connecting narrative which never quite arrives. The finale and the midpoint delve so fully into a obscure dream logic they don’t seem associated fully with the more grounded opening, and there may be a method to the madness but it was so drawn out it was easy to lose interest.
Even the title ultimately makes little sense but is indicative of the production as a whole: full of meaningful potential which remains unrealized.