You’ve seen horror movies before. You’ve seen ’70’s Satanic Panic and you’ve seen found footage, but you’ve never seen anything like Antrum.
The creatively developed Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made from David Amito and Michael Laicini is a hidden gem. Part found footage documentary and full-length feature; it is eerie and odd and unsettling in all the right ways. Incredibly patient and confident, Amito and Laicini know they have a fresh concept and let the film do the talking. The result is a bizarre experience that leaves you laughing and weirdly freaked out.
The movie begins with a History Channel type documentary similar to Ancient Aliens. Cut scenes from talking-head experts and fake new stories set the mood. The film is cursed. All who watch it are doomed to die or go insane. Those who have tried have all fallen victim to the madness. Between that and the disclaimer, which features a countdown clock to run if you are smart, all the encouragement a horror fan needs are offered.
The “real” film then begins with the euthanasia of a family dog and a tense ride home from the veterinarian. Nathan, the young boy, played with dead-eyed innocence by Rowan Smyth, is understandably upset. He is looking for reassurance from his mother that Maxine, his pup, is in Heaven. On the car ride home, not only does Mom briefly disappear but even more alarming tells Nathan Maxine is in Hell because she was bad. Oralee(Nicole Tomkins), his sister, concocts an elaborate plan to free Maxine’s soul from Hell by performing a ritual and digging a giant hole. She takes Nathan into the woods for a campout, and trouble follows quickly.
The logic of taking your kid brother out into the woods on some sort of misguided soul summoning mission is faulty at best. That kind of thing was more acceptable in the ’70s. Strange things begin happening almost right away. A sick squirrel and purposely terrible editing conceal an actual dead body just feet from their tent. Odd moments in the woods and splices on the film overlay sigils and demons. The viewer doesn’t know what is real any more than the fictional siblings. As the pair dig deeper, they encounter increasingly dangerous people until the terrifying conclusion.
Antrum And The Doorway To Hell
There is meaning in everything in Antrum. The name itself means Doorway to Hell, and even though the film isn’t real, the Doorways are rumored to be. There are doorways in Ireland, Greece, Iceland, Belize, Nicaragua, China, Japan, Hellam Township in York Pennsylvania, Stull Kansas, and Turkmenistan. There is even a storm drain in New Jersey and an inscription that may or may not exist in the Catacombs of Paris, marking the entrance to Hell. In particular, Kansas’ doorway is the most intriguing. The stairs located in the back of a decrepit church on the grounds of a cemetery lead straight to Hell. Strange noises and disappearance are attributed to this area. It is highly doubtful anyone could dig to Hell any more than they could dig a hole to China, however.
Dante’s Inferno And The Nine Circles Of Hell
The story Oralee crafts for Nathan is full of borrowed Greek mythology, Dante’s Inferno, symbology, and Latin. The barely wrong mix of these things lends a sense of surreal terror to the experience. As absurd as the idea that the two kids are literally digging their way to Hell, the multi-layered madness of Antrum keeps you intrigued. Each layer they encounter is a step further into the abyss. It begins in Limbo with a grieving suicidal man and continues from there.
In Antrum, there are only five layers to Dante’s nine. The layers are named Nefastus, meaning forbidden and wicked, Malificus meaning evil or cursed, Demonium meaning house of hell, Incarnates de Metes meaning the abandoned flesh, and Abyssus meaning unfathomable. Each layer is an amalgamation of several of Dante’s. Lust and Gluttony appear in the backwoods killer’s segments, Heresy, Fraud, and Treachery in the sister’s lie, Rage and Violence in the final act. Once they get to the last layer, it is too late to escape. Nathan reveals he knew all along Oralee was lying, and the demon has been stalking him for quite some time. It is probably what caused his dog to bite him. He was infested with evil before anything in the film took place.
Nathan has flashbacks throughout the film of a demon stalking him. As the final act plays out, he reveals he has been in contact with a demon since before the dog bite. That same demon appears throughout the film in extended pitch-black scenes. The film seems to stop, and a barely visible shadowy demon simply stares at you. You can’t help but feel as if it all might be real. It is part of the genius of the film. The demon scene continues for an uncomfortable amount of time. Most directors would cut away, but Amito and Laicini show remarkable restraint that pays off.
Greek Mythology And Folk Horror
Greek mythology makes an appearance with Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hell and the River Styx. The terrifying guard dog of the Underworld was a wild dog monster tasked with keeping the spirits from escaping. In Greek mythology, he roamed the banks of the River Styx. Throughout the film, Nathanand Oralee hear chains rattling as if Cerberus has come from the mouth of Hell. In the finale, Nathan frees a dog/wolf who has become trapped. The metal animal trap and chains were what had been making noise throughout the movie. The boy smiles as the dog runs away. The implication being Nathan released the guardian of Hell, and all of the demons were now set free. In Dante’s Inferno, Cerberus lives in the third layer of Hell.
In the middle of the night, Nathan sees a naked, pale woman being rowed on a canoe away from shore. The woman can’t clearly be seen, but she looks similar to Oralee, who later has to rescue Nathan by rowing away from shore and diving into the water to prevent him from drowning. If the siblings were indeed near Hell they both had already begun to cross the river to the underworld. Who the ferryman was taking them is never seen. The two murdering psychos are definitely not contenders.
If all of that wasn’t enough, a steampunk Wickerman-Esque statue makes an appearance. Two extremely strange men have built a home around a giant demon. In between barbequing live victims, they engage in necrophilia and cosplay. They are evil, dumb, and needlessly into dancing Footloose-style through their compound.
Subliminal Messaging And Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
The film is couched between several interviews that attempt to debunk the urban legend. The experts posit that rather than the film being cursed, it is all subliminal messaging and group hysteria. Symbols, sigils, and sounds are embedded in the movie intended to create a specific mood. Certain auditory frequencies can make you joyful, anxious, or even sick. Certain symbols associated with witchcraft and demonology evoke feelings of fear.
All of these are wound throughout the film in different ways. The Astaroth sigils alone appear 170 times. Combined with triangles, which are summoning symbols, everything is carefully designed to make the viewer paranoid and scared. You are supposed to believe you have played an active part in summoning one part of the unholy trinity.
Even throwaway comments about Goetic grimoires keep the pressure on. This is a rabbit hole you aren’t just introduced to but manipulated into diving into. After credit scenes that appear in glimpses earlier in the film are never explained. The poor wretched souls might just be memories or unfolding horrific ones. The views are very reminiscent of the recording found on board the doomed ship in Event Horizon that went to an interdimensional hell.
Whether you are a believer or just a casual observer, there is something to you can’t shake about Antrum. You want to laugh but find yourselves giggling nervously instead. With moments reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, Wickerman, Ringu, and Alice Sweet Alice this is one creepy film. The well-constructed concept, effectively acted dialogue, and perfectly designed set pieces work together to envelop the viewer in dread. Believe what you want and watch if you dare. Whether Antrum is cursed or not is all in the eye of the beholder.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.