So far, the track record for YouTube’s dark media scene in the mainstream is a bit like Tiny Tim (the Dickens one): short and unfortunate. Unsurprisingly, it’s not really the original creators’ fault; once Hollywood gets a whiff of something like Marble Hornets, their instinct is to try and improve upon it without realizing that it already worked. Up until very recently, Channel Zero was as close as we got to this school of horror making it onto a larger screen unscathed.
Taking a big swing at that trend is Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made. Word of it appeared on the Internet a few months ago in the form of interviews on YouTube. Scholars, film aficionados, and religious figures all weighed in on the nature of this mysterious film, lost to time after a string of bizarre incidents. Was it cursed? Was it safe? Would it be ethical to release this film, knowing that multiple deaths were supposedly connected to it?
Of course, as fun as it would be to keep kayfabe, Antrum is obviously a construction from the ground up: from the central movie to the interviews surrounding it. It’s the brainchild of Else Films, the group behind horror webseries Who Is Mr. Tom? They bring their sensibilities to the big screen intact with the cursed film-within-a-film, sowing doubt at every turn and neatly sidestepping many of the awkward tropes present in similar projects.
Antrum was supposedly made in the 1970s. The low-budget release is mostly a two-hander between young Nathan and his big sister Oralee. Nathan’s dog Maxine has just been put down, with the siblings’ mother informing him that Maxine was a bad dog and would not be going to heaven. To help the distraught Nathan cope with the loss of his beloved pet, Oralee takes him to a nearby forest, where the two enact a ritual that will (allegedly) allow them to dig their way to hell and free Maxine’s soul.
There is more to the movie than just this simple story, though. The film is littered with odd sigils and hidden messages, chilling footage of demonic figures, and seemingly unconnected film clips. Demonic visuals harken back to Bertolini’s L’Inferno and the early works of film pioneer Georges Mèliés. A mix of binaural tracks and whispered voices drive the tension up, even if you’re aware of the tricks being played. And the whole thing stays true to the deep-sleep nightmare tone of the best of YouTube’s ARGs and other dark series, with some of the biggest scares being oddly silent and subtle.
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The best trick of the whole piece is the doubt the documentary casts on the film’s entire shtick: “the movie that will kill you.” A lot of projects go too hard, and believe that insisting the film is deeply dangerous at every turn will be what gets you. Antrum’s documentary segments handle this aspect far more intelligently, casting a more realistic amount of doubt on its own claims. After all, being told there’s nothing to worry about is sometimes scarier than being invited to panic.
Telling too much of the story would be a disservice. You can pick up Antrum on multiple streaming services, and it’s very much worth your time if your horror watchlist is in need of a kick. Ultimately, it’s a story about stories: how they’re told, how they can be used in ways beyond their original intent, and how our interpretation of them brings additional, personal context to them.
Antrum is deliciously unsettling and deceptive at every turn. It won’t kill you — and I’m not complaining about that — but it will sit in your mind for days after. Give it a watch, and be sure to check out the Else Films YouTube channel for more from the creators.