At this point in 2019, we can agree that horror is, or at least can be, political. New director Orçun Behram leaves full into political horror with his debut feature film, The Antenna. It is a moody, atmospheric feature that uses nightmarish visuals to portray a hellish not-so-distant future where the government wants complete and total control no matter the cost. It is Tetsuo The Iron Man meets Videodrome, topped with sprinkles of Twin Peaks.
The Antenna is set in a dystopic future version of Turkey that isn’t so different from the country today. Citizens of the state, as they are often called, live in a constant state of fear and apprehension due to government control. In the desolate landscape stands a massive apartment building where Mehmet (Ihsan Önal, Baskin) is the superintendent. One day, a man comes to install the new government-issued satellite dish, which is purported to mark the beginning of a glorious new communications system that will unify the country. However, the man falls from the roof and dies in front of the building and its residents.
Everyone just shakes off the violent accident and moves on with their days. However, the dish begins oozing a thick black substance that seems to have a mind of its own. It slowly drips into the apartment building, infiltrating homes like a relentless mold. It gets in their water, their food, and their minds. Mehmet struggles to find out what exactly is going on before the ooze can get ahold of him.
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The ooze is able to change the landscape of the apartment building. A contained space becomes a labyrinth of strange wires, faceless figures, and buzzing static. Government control and propaganda is an oppressive force, but when it finally is able to infiltrate the home, quite literally in “The Antenna”, all seems lost. Behram makes a conscious choice to use a massive building, but only focus on four families within that building. There are a concentrated number of characters to care for, but it also makes the setting feel like a massive hellscape. Who else lives there? How are they being affected by the dish? It doesn’t really matter, because everyone is descending into government-sanctioned madness.
“Who else lives there? How are they being affected by the dish? It doesn’t really matter, because everyone is descending into government-sanctioned madness.”
In a film where Behram could have easily shown the horrors, he keeps it at a distance and instead focuses on his characters. When the man falls from the building, the camera is focused on Mehmet’s face in his office, while the man is shown hitting the pavement out of focus in the background. This technique is prevalent through The Antenna, giving the audience access to fear, but keeping it fuzzy and distant, which only helps build the tension. That tension slowly grows, oozing out of the screen like the black goo, and suddenly explodes into strange violence. The Antenna can be classified as a slow burn, but the threat of the black substance is always there. It is a dread-filled film about the creeping progression of government control.
While the tension snaps into Cronenbergian strangeness, the final act unfortunately, descends into a film that focuses on style over substance. Behram obviously has a lot of ideas, especially in reference to Turkey’s current political situation. However, those ideas don’t necessarily all fit together. There is a fascinating narrative, but the message becomes a little convoluted. Most of our knowledge about the oppressive regime comes from radio broadcasts and hints in conversation, but there is no precise moment of explaining or directly referencing the current political situation. It seems that Behram wanted to be purposefully obtuse about it, but it is ultimately to the narrative’s detriment.
“ ..a dread-filled film about the creeping progression of government control.”
No matter how rocky parts of the story may be, Önal as Mehmet provides the deep emotional attachment needed to stay invested in The Antenna. Mehmet works at the building and is constantly berated by his boss, yelled at for dozing off and not being fast enough with his duties. But all Mehmet wants is peace and quiet. Önal is able to capture Mehmet’s utter exhaustion with his large expressive eyes and a face that sags with defeat. You feel tired just looking at him. You also can’t help but admire his dedication to a job that seems absolutely thankless (sadly, we’ve all been there). We see this world mostly through Mehmet’s eyes and through Önal’s performance, we are able to experience his emotional journey and discovery.
The Antenna is an ambitious and beautiful debut from Behram. While he often focuses on style over substance, he still delivers an atmospheric film that pushes against Turkish political control. By drawing on the works of previous horror masters and applying it to his cultural context, Behram delivers an original piece of art horror with a deep political message.
The Antenna celebrated its World Premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, September 8th. TIFF 2019 ran September 5th-15th in Toronto, Ontario and you can find all of our reviews, interviews, and news HERE, as well as on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!