Writer and Director: Orçun Behram
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Part political allegory, but more turgid horror, The Antenna feels very dated. This film from Turkey takes itself far too seriously and its comparisons of the workings of a totalitarian state to some mysterious and deadly black goo are overlaboured.
This sticky tar comes out of the satellite dishes that the government has ordered be fixed atop of every block of flats. Now the state can more easily disseminate information and instructions to the people. Like propaganda, the goo is soon trickling down living room walls and gushing out of taps, conjuring up new ways of killing.
Mehmet is the janitor of a scruffy tower block and the film begins with him meeting the workman who will install the block’s satellite dish. Watching from his hut, Mehmet sees the workman fall from the roof to his death, although it is not clear whether the workman slips accidentally, or whether, as he knows the havoc the dishes will bring, he commits suicide.
The first hour of this horror is slow as we glimpse the lives of some of the hi-rise’s inhabitants. One man, who has lost his job, is emasculated by his son asking why his father is at home in the mornings. Another resident, Yasemin, plans her escape from her domineering father and her arranged marriage while downstairs a woman sticks needles of Botox in her face to obtain eternal youth. It’s clear from the onset that some of these characters will come to sticky ends.
There are no real jumps in this horror – your popcorn will be safe – and instead the tension is created by Can Dimirci’s never ending musical crescendos that do little but make the viewer hyper-aware of them. This music seems the kind used in video games such as Resident Evil, a comparison also to be had when Mehmet walks down endless corridor or when Yasemin runs down dark stairwells.
But over all, it’s difficult to care about the fates of these people, even Mehmet doggedly played by Ishan Önal. As a downtrodden drudge there’s little comedy in his performance; indeed, every frame of this film is shot with the straightest of faces. Of course, under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan there might not be much to smile about in Turkey at the moment. After the attempted coup in 2016, Erdoğan’s government closed down publishing houses and sacked academics. Journalists, artists and singers have been accused of ‘insulting the president’ or having terrorist aims. In this kind of atmosphere, it is no wonder that director and writer Orçun Behram has set his film in a previous era, where the Internet has still to be invented.
Rather than shocks, Behram provides the occasional surprise with almost painterly portraits of people in their homes, or with scenes of urban desolation that seem entirely filmed in black and white. But these interludes are not enough. As a horror, The Antenna needs to be more scary. As a metaphor for the erosion of free speech under Erdoğan, the film lacks substance and nuance. And so in the end, it’s a long haul with little reward. But the fact that this film even exists attests to Behram’s bravery. With nerves like his, we await his next film with interest.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 2 October to 13 October.