Antarctica is a deeply moving, entertaining film that presents the absurdities of US high school reality with a this-can’t-be-real surreal seriousness.
Antarctica truly is an indie film like I have seen no other. Think Jason Reitman’s Juno, but dealing with the topic of contemporary American high school a tad more seriously and realistically. That does not mean to say that Antarctica is not a fun comedy: on the contrary, it is absolutely hilarious. In Keith Bearden’s (Meet Moniva Velour) new feature, best friends Janet (Kimie Muroya, Conflagration) and Kat (Chloë Levine, Trinkets, The OA) share a bond that only completes their characters as a whole. The chemistry and familial bond between Muroya and Levine add a silver lining to the dreadful circumstances their individual characters find themselves in. Whatever they go through over the course of the film, a kind-hearted message can be found in how their friendship grows with them over time.
In one sentence, Antarctica can be described as ‘two life-long best friends face a tidal wave of adult pressures and problems as they face down their last year of high school in small-town USA.’ From this description alone, Antarctica does not seem to have much innovation to offer. However, the intro alone promises an absurd indie flick that goes beyond the usual and antiquated tropes of the high school teenage drama genre. We follow our two main characters against the backdrop of wider societal problems such as mass school shootings, which is absurdly jokingly being used to cheer Kat up that the ongoing rumours will soon be out of people’s minds when a new shooting will open, and conservative ideas on sex and abortion stemming from the 1950s.
Navigating a sea of horrifying, real contemporary issues that would give panic-stricken anxiety to the ignorant and calmest of people, Kat and Janet get submersed in issues that are way above their age-grade to deal with and that without support or a way out, in Antartica, it is sink or swim. Kat and Janet are the average high school girls who don’t clique together or have an overtly keen interest in groups, clubs, and sports. Trying to be normal in an abnormal world they don’t outwardly care if they fit in or not. When Kat on a whim decides to let a (quite teeth-clenching) class idiot have sex with her as an alternative to attending a boring high school party (complete with a bouncer and the much younger siblings locked out of their house), she ends up getting pregnant. While she deals with a deluge of upsetting bullying messages by the whole school, Janet comes to her defence and gives the not-to-be-father a clean uppercut.
This lands Janet in a sea of problems of her own, as her brave defence is treated with what resembles a 1950s attitude to ‘problems of the female agitation’ and she gets nearly arrested for displaying extreme violence and anger issues. In order to graduate her senior year, she is ordered to take doses of drug called Femtrexl that ‘the female dispositions’ (and magically reduces your weight as well). Side-effects include hallucinations and for the majority of Antarctica Janet certainly trips higher and higher (as she admits at regular intervals). Struggling to even function normally, she tries to help Kat out with her abortion while at the same time questioning if her new astronaut-suited crush exists in the real or not. What makes Janet’s drug-induced scenes truly believable and incredibly interesting is the astonishing sound and visual effects poured into the experience. Ironically, I can imagine Antarctica becoming one of those educational films on why you should not do drugs.
So many issues in the current American society are addressed in the film that it wouldn’t be possible to give them a proper credit in this review, but trust me: they are all well represented and outstandingly performed with a teeth-clenching trueness that almost brings up the bile. The sad thing is, the ‘state of the f*cked-up nation’ comedy nowhere portrays things that are too fantastical to be true. Kat and Janet’s life is a slippery slope where they can do nothing right and the supposed equal balance between parties is completely off. Thankfully Bearden’s humour saves a lot of the grim pictures being portrayed and turns this otherwise dark film in an enjoyable hour and thirty minutes that will give you much food for thought. If the title of the film stands for how fast our society is sinking to a point of no return, a sense of urgency and a probable call for change can also be seen in Antarctica.
Antarctica will be screened at the Raindance Film Festival for free on November 4 at 5:30 pm, with an online repeat on November 6 at 12 noon.