Last week at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, writer/director Danny Perez celebrated the world premiere of his wildly surreal horror movie, Antibirth, which co-stars Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny. Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Perez about what inspired the story of Antibirth, his approach to the material, his experiences collaborating with his cast and more.
What inspired the story for Antibirth? We’ve seen pregnancy horror movies before, but this felt wholly different than anything I’ve ever seen before.
Danny Perez: Thanks, it comes from a couple different sources, but ultimately I was friends with Natasha. I knew I wanted to work with her, so I knew I wanted to write something for her. I wanted to do something with a female lead because narratively and visually I'm more interested in that. I knew that I wanted to subvert a lot of female archetypes, so in that regard pregnancy and this image of women as glowing in gestational bliss and being so happy—it just seemed like an easy target, if you will.
No one really talks about the more gruesome aspects of pregnancy and what it does to the body, so I knew I wanted to touch on that. It seemed like using the device of someone who had a lot of vices or addictions meant we could work against that pure image we have of maternal women. You have this woman literally pushing her pregnant belly against a microwave and so I wanted to create a world where nothing is sacred. Once I had that concept as the unifying theme, it gave me the ability to do more crass, vulgar stuff like that, and ramp it up.
Speaking to that, the way you added these surreal touches to this otherwise grounded-in-reality story was great, and I thought it added so much heightened tension to the finale.
Danny Perez: I appreciate that. I knew this movie would have horror elements, but it would have been very easy to light it very dark and dingy and to have it look like a Saw movie because that’s what fans maybe would expect from this. I wanted to have these very colorful, psychedelic—for lack of a better word—or surreal moments that would bounce off against the more dry trailer scenes, or the interior scenes.
The colorful, surreal passages that bump up against the more grimy, very gritty aspects creates an interesting duality. As an audience member, I feel that's what lends itself to a certain kind of anxiety or confusion.
This story has very concrete narrative elements, but very amorphous surreal passages. I like to think that confusion it instills in the view is also a positive, and it gives you freedom to draw upon your own meanings or your own experience.
I couldn’t help but fall in love with Lou in this because there's an aspect of her that deals with this situation so matter-of-factly, whereas most women would be like, "What the hell's going on?" It’s so unexpected.
Danny Perez: There's a scene in the movie where she crawls out, after the big time lapse, and she stabs her foot open on the floor. At no point does she ever say, "Why the fuck is my belly so fat?" and that is reflective of her self-destructive drive. That drive determines all those decisions. It's like this self-destructive, nihilist behavior, but this is also a woman that doesn't want to be pregnant and I wanted to establish that, too. We're expected to believe that women have a short amount of time where they're genetically productive as far as being fertile to produce babies. Society fucking puts that as a currency on top of your head as a woman, but the fact of the matter is in 2016, in this modern age, a lot of women don't want to have kids.
They don't feel like they have that emotional capacity to be a nurturer or be a mother. There’s the scene with the miscarriage, and I know it's shocking and maybe even a little in bad taste, but that has happened. I know women that's happened to. They go to a restaurant and they look in the toilet, and there's a piece of fetal tissue. My point being, after that scene, she says, "I feel like my body completely rejected life," like, "I'm not supposed to be a mother." I'm not doing that scene to be, "Oh, look how crazy! There's a fetus!" No. It informs the character and her behavior. The reason she's so wasted is because there's actually a little bit of sadness there. She's punishing herself because she feels like a failure as a woman. That was something I wanted to touch on.
Let’s talk about the cast of Antibirth; you mentioned you wrote this for Natasha, but you also have Chloë, and then Meg Tilly comes in, too. You have this really great, strong trio of women working together in this film.
Danny Perez: Thank you. I was a big fan of Natasha myself, even before I knew her. I definitely wrote it specifically for her and for her strengths, but there was a time, because of scheduling and budgeting, where she was going to maybe not be able to do it, and I was freaking out like, "Who the fuck is going to play this part?"
It's so obviously written for Natasha. Again, I don't want it to be like she's resting on her laurels, like, "Oh, she's doing the Natasha Lyonne thing." I do think we see her do stuff in this movie that we haven't' seen her do before. There's a physicality to it, that's where she uses her whole body, the way she moves. That was really important to me and it's also to her credit that she stuck with the project.
She believed in us. There was a weird moment where I was like, "What am I going to do?" It was super crucial, and with Chloë it was the same way. I wrote the role for her, so I knew I was writing to her strengths and such. Then, conversely, Meg Tilly was someone who I'd never worked with before, had only really met over a Skype call, but we liked each other and she agreed to do it and she was amazing. She was a dream to work with, but literally the opposite of Natasha.
But it was easy to bring that chemistry and the dynamic between the characters of Lou and Sadie to the screen because it was naturally there between Natasha and Chloë as friends. Natasha and Meg were strangers in real life. They never worked together, so that formed their unusual body language and their chemistry in the movie.