Selling ‘Antichrist’: arthouse or genre?

Posted by · 4:45 pm · September 29th, 2009

Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg in AntichristAs we’ve seen from the wildly varied poster designs for the film, “Antichrist” offers it marketers an unusual range of options. Depending on the region, it’s being sold as a stern art film, a jokey provocation, a horror scream-fest or a mixture of all three.

We have yet to see how the film performs Stateside, but my eye was caught by an article in this month’s Sight & Sound magazine, in which box-office analyst Charles Gant looks into the successful approach taken by UK distributor Artificial Eye.

Though it is the country’s most highbrow art house outfit (“The Class” and “Fish Tank” are among the other titles they handled this year), Artificial Eye made the unusual decision to sell the film on its genre elements, playing up its more horror-inspired imagery and emphasizing the various “MOST SHOCKING EVER” critical tags that emerged from Cannes.

It was a slightly dishonest approach to a film that isn’t an all-out horror effort by any means (and is far less outrageous than the media would have you believe), but Gant finds that it paid off handsomely:

Artificial Eye faced a clear choice: sell the elements to the company’s traditional arthouse audience, or pitch it in a way that also chased after more mainstream film fans attracted by the transgressive horror content. It chose the latter course, with a disturbing shot of copulation in the forest as the main marketing image, and was rewarded with an opening weekend of £99,000 [$158,000], the biggest ever for a von Trier film in the UK.

The article continues:

“We had a furious debate within the company about whether this was the right or wrong thing to do,” says [Artificial Eye chief Richard] Napper. “How we pitched this campaign probably sacrificed some of the arthouse audience. But this is the first Artificial Eye film that’s taken as much in mainstream as independent cinemas. It’s a breakthrough title for our company.”

Napper continues that they plan to “sell it as a horror title on DVD … where we are hopefully going to get our money back for the acquisition cost.” It may work. An odd aura has built up around “Antichrist,” principally through a Chinese-whispers-style exaggeration of that clitoridectomy scene (again, briefer and less lurid than has been publicized), which seems to have made a number of people afraid to see the film. (I’ve certainly seen several comments on this site to that effect.)

Perhaps it won’t seem quite as intimidating a prospect on a small screen, or perhaps the “are you brave enough to see ‘Antichrist?'” angle can be worked into a successful DVD marketing campaign. Either way, the crafty obscuring of what the film really is — a hard domestic drama layered with some playful (if unpleasant) horror-cinema tropes — continues apace.

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8 responses so far

  • 1 9-29-2009 at 5:52 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    What’s odd is the lack of using a still of the animatronic-talking fox? He’s the reason I want to see this movie at all.

    I don’t care about women cutting themselves or cutting men for that matter or sex on top of zombies – all of those things don’t interest me.

  • 2 9-29-2009 at 6:34 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Selling this film as a straight-up horror film and not as an arthouse piece is just BEGGING for a significant backlash.

  • 3 9-29-2009 at 8:54 pm

    brian said...

    When does this get released stateside?

  • 4 9-29-2009 at 10:28 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Is Antichrist an art film because of who directed it? Is Antichrist an art film because it provokes conversation? Is Antichrist an art film because Hollywood would never produce anything like it?

    IFC Films is releasing this in late October in NY and LA – so by default of where this film will screen theatrically here stateside – it does them no favorites to promote it has an outright horror movie when the audience who’ll see it – likely reads sites like this and are fully prepared for the schlock elements that have been widely debated.

  • 5 9-30-2009 at 1:31 am

    Chris said...

    I agree, Guy, the clitoridectomy is by far not the most shocking part of the film. And it really is not the most shocking film ever – it is simply quite frightening from a psychological point of view, as you slowly discover what is going on in both characters’ minds.

    The scene which I found most frightening, for instance, was Willem Dafoe discovering his wife’s research results in the attic.

  • 6 9-30-2009 at 3:24 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    The trailer played here last night and the audience went seriously WTF over it. Also before it was a terrible trailer for Precious, I hadn’t seen the trailer yet and haven’t seen the film either but I pray it’s much more than made out in the trailer, right?

  • 7 9-30-2009 at 5:38 am

    Dominik said...

    It´s definitely a big PSEUDO, so I call it pseudo-arthouse and pseudo-important.
    All in all, a huge disappointment.