It’s October, so you know what that means: bring out the scares! Horror as a film genre has to be one of my favorite genres. As a genre, it one of the most flexible, allowing for true creativity to spark. Whether that be through atmospheric and unsettling films such as Ari Aster’s Midsommar or rougher found-footage style films such as The Blair Witch Project. However, Hollywood’s preference for more polished filmmaking has done more damage than good to the horror genre that led many to believe horror was nothing more than recycled clichés and tropes. But in the world of indie filmmaking, horror films are not only able to develop character, but also express their full creativity.
Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made sells itself as a cursed film surrounding two siblings, Oralee (played by Nicole Tompkins) and her little brother Nathan (played by Rowan Smyth) as they journey into a forbidden forest infamous for its dark history of suicides to save the soul of their recently deceased dog. As the two continue to stay in the forest, Nathan begins to see visions of black demonic entities. Meanwhile, the two run into a pair of cannibals who stalk the siblings throughout the forest as their seemingly benign trip spirals down a dark twist.
On the surface, Antrum may present itself as a poorly-made film containing grainy footage and randomly spliced together footage from unrelated events. However, as I continued watching it, I felt something that I never felt about any other horror film I’ve previously seen. Like the legal warning says before the actual film starts, Antrum truly feels like a cursed film that you shouldn’t see. The entire time I was watching, I felt increasingly unnerved and on edge as I watched Oralee and Nathan delve deeper into the woods. Antrum truly stands out in its tone, providing a chilling atmosphere and blurring the fine line between reality and fiction, especially during the scenes where Nathan sees demons and demonic visions in the woods. By having the footage appear grainy and unpolished further adds to the unnerving atmosphere, giving off the appearance of an unfinished film that was not meant to be seen.
But aside from the unnerving and eerie tone, Antrum really stands out in its performances by its two main leads: Nicole Tompkins and Rowan Smyth. I first came across Nicole through the Resident Evil games, specifically through both Resident Evil: Village and the remake of Resident Evil 3, where she did both the voice acting and motion capture for Daniela Dimitrescu and Jill Valentine, respectively. Additionally, she frequently streams herself playing a variety of video games on her YouTube channel where she frequently collaborates with other voice and mo-cap actors, which I’m also a fan of. Tompkins fully commits herself to her performance as the caring and brave older sister wanting to help her little brother move on from their dog’s untimely death. She can switch her performance from easygoing, to scared, to protective instantaneously. If anything, I seriously hope Nicole Tompkins gets more film roles in the future because she has the talent to make it far in the film industry!
Besides Tompkins, Rowan Smyth knocked it out of the park with his performance as a young grieving pet owner. You can feel just how much he loves his dog and the lengths he’s willing to go to bring peace to her soul. However, as the film continues, we discover the reasons why his dog was put down. It was found out that she attacked Nathan randomly without provocation. Despite this, he never held any sort of resentment towards her, further highlighting his childlike innocence. When he later frees a dog caught in a bear trap towards the end of the film, he feels a sense of satisfaction, seeing it as himself freeing his dog’s soul. Normally, performances by child actors are more miss than hit, but Smyth’s performance is nothing short of convincing and authentic!
Despite the film’s strong performances and creativity, I did feel that the pacing damaged the film’s quality. There was footage of a young nude couple held in captivity while being tortured randomly spliced into the film at random intervals. What is this trying to convey? I have no idea. Additionally, I felt that there were some plot points that didn’t go addressed. For example, Nathan seems to have an ability to see demons, although his visions don’t really have much meaning to them, outside one where he claims to have met with a demon who says that Oralee would betray him. But even that doesn’t happen. So what was the purpose behind his visions? Although some reviewers say that the pacing was off, I think there’s some merit to having a slower paced film. It’s better to start a horror film off by slowly building tension and then having it released in the climax of the film.
Although it has some slight hiccups, Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made excels in its originality and ability to keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s clear that the filmmakers not only poured their passion into making Antrum, but also did their research on demons from the historical and cultural meanings that demons convey. Full of strong performances by both Nicole Tompkins and Rowan Smyth, Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made is unlike any horror film I’ve seen before and one I will add to my growing list of horror movie recommendations.