Von Trier rethinks horror in ‘Antichrist’

Director brings graphic approach to genre

Two years ago, Danish helmer Lars von Trier was hit with a severe and inexplicable depression.

It left him bedridden for months, staring at the walls, even unable to decide whether to get up for a glass of water. Part of the road to recovery was reinventing the horror film in the form of “Antichrist.”

“Each time I set out to do a genre film, it becomes something else,” von Trier tells Variety. “I add other stuff. So I don’t know if this is straight horror.”

So far, von Trier and his production company Zentropa are keeping the lid on “Antichrist.” Nobody outside the company has seen the film yet, but rumors have been circulating about the level of controversy the film’s graphic content may arouse, while lead actress Charlotte Gainsbourg revealed in a French interview that the sex scenes are close to pornographic.

“Yes, there is a lot of blood and sex,” von Trier says with a happy smile.

“Charlotte is normally very shy,” he adds, “but she threw herself into the sex scenes without any inhibitions.”

Von Trier talks about “Antichrist” as part of the therapy for his depression. At the start of production, he told Gainsbourg and co-star Willem Dafoe that he was then working at only 50% of his normal capacity.

“Now I’m up to maybe 70,” he says. “They say it can take up to seven years to get out of such a deep depression.”

The film deals with a couple coming to terms with losing a child — this in the proverbial lonely cottage in the woods. Inevitably, terrible things occur. What they are we won’t see until the film unspools, but the title may allude to von Trier’s relation to religion.

“I’m not religious,” he says. “I’ve tried to be, but I can’t. If I believe in anything, it is some sort of good power. People can be very nice to each other, and I think that the foundation to survival is kindness and cooperation. But I would not want to be one of God’s friends on Facebook.”

Von Trier has touched on horror before, as in the groundbreaking TV series “The Kingdom,” which blended dark humor with a dose of the supernatural.

“I like horror,” he admits. “It is a genre that allows you to show a lot of things that are illogical but that you still accept. It is a very comfortable genre.”

He describes “Antichrist” as part documentary and part stylized, with the latter aspect infused with a romantic feel.

“Usually, I operate the camera myself,” he says. “This time I was not physically or mentally capable of doing that. That was defeating for me.”

He says that for each film he wants to reinvent himself, to find new ways of making movies. That is why he regards having shot “Manderlay” in the same style as its predecessor, “Dogville,” as a mistake, which may explain why he’s not as keen on reflecting about the Dogma 95 movement today.

“I have difficulty retreating into old footsteps,” he says about the filmmaking philosophy and collective with which he’s most associated. “I have to invent something new every time.”

Many of his previous films have not been commercially successful on their home turf, and he bemusedly says there are those who say there is no audience for “Antichrist.”

“But on the other side, there are a lot of people who really like it,” he says. “And for me it is a very personal film. It is childish, even though it definitely is not for children to see.”

He says that he has no idea what to do next, or if “Wasington” — the third film in the trilogy that started with “Dogville” and “Manderlay” — will ever get made.

“I have spent all my energy on making this bird fly,” he says of “Antichrist.” “What’s up next, I don’t know. First I have to survive Cannes. It can be terrible, but it is part of the job.”