This turned out to be an inspired "fucked up pregnancy" double bill I made for myself. While both about an unconventional pregnancy, these two films could not have been more different.
Where Shelley was a quiet, slow build; Antibirth was an obnoxious, trippy mess. Where Shelley was set in nature, at a remote cabin on a lake; Antibirth took place in the slums of a city, full of warehouse raves and low-budget motels.
Muted natural colours (aside from a blood red title screen) versus an overload of bright colours, loud music and ever-changing TV commercials. Simply living characters, without even electricity or running water in their home, versus relentlessly bong-hitting, drunk party girls.
Shelley tells the story of Louise and Kasper (Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Peter Christoffersen), a married couple living a quiet life. Louise desperately wants a baby, but is unable to bear children after her last failed pregnancy resulted in a hysterectomy. When their new Romanian maid Elena (Cosmina Stratan) decides to help them, her surrogacy quickly becomes very unusual.
Antibirth, meanwhile, deals with a surprise pregnancy. Lou (Natasha Lyonne, basically playing her Orange Is The New Black character but not in jail - not a complaint) wakes up from a heavy night of partying feeling decidedly worse than just her usual comedown/hangover. Her stomach starts growing at an alarming rate, she's hungry all the time, yet sick to her stomach.
Is this just one rave, one bong hit too many? Or does the sinister local drug dealer/pimp boyfriend of her friend Sadie (Chloë Sevigny) have something to do with it?
|Oh yeah, and Meg Tilly is in this, too!|
The differences go as far as pacing, too. The pacing of Shelley is extremely measured, it's a very, very slow burn, and even its conclusion is quiet and still - though not without making the viewer think about what the future holds for this family, and the world at large.
It's a film that demands your attention, not least because a fair amount of the dialogue is subtitled (languages spoken, according to IMDb: Danish, English, Norwegian, Swedish, Romanian!) but a lot of it also is non-verbal, with reactions, realisations and contemplation taking place silently. It's a sense of creeping dread, rather than a loud announcement of horror.
In contrast, Antibirth moves along pretty quickly... though not always making complete sense. Lou is a train-wreck, and you can't help but feel for her as things finally start getting explained as to just how messed up her situation is.
Its climax, as one quote on its poster suggests, is "especially fucked up!". It's pretty fucking insane and amazing. I did not see that coming!
Being so different, I don't feel forced to choose a favourite between these two films... though if I had to recommend one over the other, it would probably be Antibirth, just for being so out there and such a trip to watch. I really don't want to give anything away, but if you've seen it feel free to comment with your reaction to that ending!
Both films are streaming on Netflix at time of writing.