Lars von Trier's Antichrist has been the frontrunner for feel-bad movie of the winter since it spawned controversy - and, reportedly, fainting - at the Cannes Film Festival in the spring.

Lars von Trier's Antichrist has been the frontrunner for feel-bad movie of the winter since it spawned controversy - and, reportedly, fainting - at the Cannes Film Festival in the spring.

Its reputation of grotesqueness and misogyny precedes it to the extent that you feel as though you're watching it on a dare. This reputation is deserved. There is no entertainment here, and only the most daring of filmgoers should venture in.

Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg star as a professional couple - identified only in pronoun - in the aftermath of the accidental death of their toddler son. He is a therapist, a role that invariably provokes an attempt to fix a wife so grief-stricken she's barely breathing.

His methods lead them to a forest retreat, a fertile atmosphere for that deeply bitter, passive-aggressive way in which intellectual couples argue. In this bleak setting, depression gives way to a profound madness.

For two-thirds of its running time, Antichrist is a thoroughly remarkable film, a slow, twisted, dreamy meditation on a sadness so wretched that most should be thankful for never knowing it. Gainsbourg draws from a misery that is raw and startlingly real. Witnessing this performance almost makes it worth wading into this swamp of a film.

But in the final third, the film - along with its lead character - flat-out goes insane. A gray portrait is suddenly splashed with an abhorrently graphic blend of sex and violence that is difficult to stomach. Tread carefully, if at all.