A low-budget, kid-friendly Danish superhero film has snuck into a few theaters, and it’s pretty crazy.
Like most professional film critics, I try to be a high-minded and (one would hope) succinct proponent of the cinematic craft. As such, I tend to boost the unique, the arty, and the outright great movies I come across; As a critic, I am on an unending quest to discover the new and the great, movies that take the filmic form to new heights.
This quest has taken me down some really odd paths, taken me to faraway movie theaters, and exposed me to some auteur pictures that seem to be less the result of an artist working at the height of his powers, and more the result of an outsider wonk producing feature films that seem to come from another dimension. Movies that are not good, not bad, but just plain weird. Peers of mine have dubbed these unique outsider films “HFS movies.” What is HFS? Well, the “H” stands for “holy.” You can intuit the rest. My quest has lead me to movies like Stewart Raffil’s Standing Ovation, the abrasive and bizarre The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, the bonkers action flick Royal Kill, and, the holiest of holies, John Rad’s 2005 masterpiece Dangerous Men. I saw all of these films on the big screen, and had to drive a good distance for each.
Ask Hasselbach’s new film Antboy is one I have seen advertised for months, mostly here in Los Angeles, on the sides of carwashes and posted on buildings under construction. It’s exactly the type of hidden, low-budget gem that gets my radar pinging. So naturally, I hustled up a few open-minded friends, and drove out to the boonies to see a theatrical exhibition of Antboy.
What we got was not quite an HFS movie, but it comes awfully close. Antboy is a Danish superhero film, dubbed in English, that plays like a limp, low-budget retread of Spider-Man on its surface, but has a slight off-kilter edge within some of the details, leaving one a little pleasantly baffled. 12-year-old Pelle (Oscar Dietz), while running from some bullies, is bitten by an ant. The next morning, he discovers he has a new craving for sugar, sticky hands, and super strength. Following the advice of a local comic book geek named Wilhelm (Samuel Ting Graf), he becomes a costumed vigilante named Antboy. Ant-Man was taken, you see. If Edgar Wright had any sort of creative integrity, he would incorporate footage from this film into his upcoming Ant-Man feature. Wilhelm, by the way, is not a Marvel or DC kid, but that rarest of animals, the Dark Horse aficionado; his room is full of Hellboy statues. His one favorite comic is the not-defunct title The Savage Dragon.
The golden parts: Antboy not only craves sugar, but requires it. His superpowers are fueled by sugary foods. As such, his utility belt is stuffed full of soda and candy bars. In a late scene, Antboy has to break into a vending machine and chug the sweets therein to continue fighting his arch-nemesis. His jaws are extra powerful as well, and he demonstrates by biting through a math textbook. Oh yes, and since ants excrete corrosive fluids, Antboy has also gained the ability to urinate acid. He pees on a door to get through it at one point. Sadly, there will not be a scene wherein Antboy tactically pees on a foe. This film is only rated PG, after all. Oh yes, and there’s a scene wherein Pelle enacts his superhero fantasies with his stuffed animals, and the comic punch sound effects make it look like the teddy bear is really going to town on this 12-year-old boy.
The drama is overall pretty lame. The only personal conflicts Antboy faces are whether or not he’ll gain the affections of the prettiest girl in school, or her more interesting sister Ida (Amalie Kruse Jensen). The villain is a fat guy named The Flea (Nicolas Bro from Nymphomaniac), who has super leaping powers and a tendency to growl too much. The dubbing will be distracting to everyone. The violence is largely off-screen; No punches land on camera, and Antboy deals out no physical violence.
Since as a film, it is objectively not very good, I will have to rate Antboy low on my scale, but that doesn’t mean I’m not recommending it to every one of you. These little bizarre gems should be sought out by any and all enthusiasts of outsider cinema. See it in a theater if you can; Don’t find it online. It’s this kind of schlock that contains the true spirit of what film is. Antboy, oh Antboy, you’re keeping something alive.
Rating: 2 Burritos