The Antenna is a strange amalgam that might hold some intrigue for horror fans but is otherwise just another drab, generic Eastern Bloc allegory.
Director Orcun Behram’s The Antenna is a curious hybrid, beginning as a comically on-the-nose, almost inept political allegory before transforming into a more straightforward (and pretty effective) horror film. Like a lot of directors making their feature debut, Behram crams in as many ideas and references as he can, which leads to an episodic structure and some wild fluctuations in tone. Produced in Turkey but taking place in a nondescript public housing complex, The Antenna sometimes feels like any number of drab, Eastern European movies that take place under various post-Eastern Bloc regimes. As the film begins, apprentice building manager Mehmet (Ihsan Önal) is informed that a new communication device is being installed, one which will connect all buildings and citizenry directly to government programming, beginning with a scheduled mandatory address later that evening. Things get strange quickly, as the worker doing the installation plummets to his death, and building occupants start complaining about black goo leaking into their rooms. The goo itself is coming directly from the antenna, dripping and oozing out of it, turning the antenna into a manifestation of… something. It’s somehow simultaneously too diffuse and too literal.
Behram’s nods towards the generically Orwellian and Kafka-esque are facile, at best, while the goo itself is vaguely defined, at various points doing whatever the script demands of it (it causes accidents, hallucinations, and turns people into faceless murderers). It’s almost funny, except that the film is mostly straight-faced, so dour that any comedic undertones feel unintentional (one exception, a strange detour featuring a kitschy skin-care routine that is deeply out of place). Critic Bilge Ebiri (himself Turkish) suggests that “thanks to censor-happy governments past and present, Turkish artists have cultivated their own brand of nonspecific allegories.” This is almost certainly true, but it’s this lack of specificity, coupled with references to Hitchcock, Carpenter, Cronenberg, and Cohen, that transform tropes into clichés. Still, all of that said, Behram conjures some terrifically tense and creepy set pieces. The goo itself has a thick, tactile texture, and it moves almost like it has a mind of its own. There’s a clear viscosity to it; as it coats walls and people, the frame starts to look like a Franz Kline painting come to hideous life. Various building inhabitants meet gruesome ends, and as Mehmet loosens his grip on reality, there are some strikingly surreal moments that invoke nothing less than Un Chien Andalou. Ultimately, The Antenna doesn’t really have anything to say about life under Erdoğan’s regime, nor even any commentary about life in a surveillance state. But for horror fans hungry for something a little offbeat, this might be worth a look thanks to its strange alchemy.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | October 2020.