Toronto Film Review: ‘The Antenna’

A handsome design feels a bit secondhand in Orçun Behram’s horror movie, which dismantles Turkey’s oppressive rule under Erdoğan with a series of obvious metaphors.

Orçun Behram
Ihsan Önal, Gül Arici, Levent Ünsal, Isil Zeynep, Murat Saglam, Elif Çakman, mert Toprak Yadigar, Eda Özel.

Running time: 115 MIN.

Jump scares, creepy noises and the tease of hidden-from-view dangers are all fine. But a truly frightening horror film unsettles with more than its crafts, but instead through the vulnerability of defenseless people stuck with bad options only. First-time writer-director Orçun Behram’s highly stylized and mildly disturbing “The Antenna,” a metaphor on Turkey’s current ruling under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is what happens when a filmmaker prioritizes visual concept over story, and falls short of crafting well-defined characters whose hurt we can care about. With such crucial facets undercooked, Behram’s genre exercise yields a handsomely designed but perishable dystopian horror-thriller that impresses through imagery and audio cues — Ismail Hakki Hafiz’s sound design and Can Demirci’s high-wired score are especially noteworthy — but doesn’t scar the soul like it should.

That’s too bad, considering that Behram clearly possesses a vision and has inspirations, although they feel a bit too closely shaped by the eerie otherworldliness of David Lynch, the body horror of David Cronenberg and the distinct psyche of Park Chan-wook — to the extent that watching “The Antenna” doesn’t quite feel like discovering something new. So erect a Ben Wheatley-style “High-Rise” around the creepy hallways of “Old Boy,” and you will find yourself in the approximate vicinity of the film, which should find a healthy audience in genre film festivals and midnight sections alike, following its 2019 Toronto Film Festival debut.

Set in an undefined time in a nameless Turkish city, the story concerns Mehmet (a hypnotic Ihsan Önal), the heavy-eyed superintendent of a lifeless, grimy high-rise, in charge of overseeing the installation of a government-mandated antenna. It’s the day of the regime’s first integrated broadcast from a single, totalitarian TV channel and Mehmet’s immediate boss, the micro-managing Cihan (Levent Ünsal), would like to see the inauguration go without a hitch. Except, the appointed installer suddenly falls to his death (the first jolt Behram’s got up his sleeve) to the shocking apathy of bystanders, who might as well be related to the “Eloi.” With the incident, the killer antenna starts seeping an evil, thick black goo, disseminating it to the building through its pipes and vents, transforming everyone who comes in close contact with it to a faceless, monstrous post-human.

Still with me? It should be noted, the very suggestion of a “Turkish dystopia” is inherently ironic. The democratic country (where this critic was raised) has long been enduring its own real-life dystopia under the increasingly tyrannical command of Erdoğan: Just over a year ago, he increased his legislative and judicial powers as the country’s first Executive President after a referendum. This demoralizing reality, combined with the continued threat the regime poses upon the country’s independent media, makes Turkey both a perfect stage for Behram’s partly 1984-esque (and somewhat shallow) scenario, and a severely on-the-nose one. Still, and especially considering the rise of right-wing politics on a global scale, you go along with the story, following the hauntingly devised goo as it infects the grubby living rooms and bathrooms of various residents, erasing their free-thinking individuality one by one. Inside each unit, Behram and his production design team introduce distinct colors and wallpaper patterns as a backsplash to various tenants: soulless families, desensitized couples and lethargic singles alike.

As a character, Mehmet proves to be fairly forgettable, even as he mostly continues to drive the action forward, tending to the demands of the occupants, pursuing the completion of the installation and so on. More interesting is the young Yasemin (an imposingly spooked Gül Arici), representing pretty much the only tenant who looks to still have traces of a caring spirit. Being raised in a traditional, explicitly right-leaning family, the strong-willed Yasemin briefly strives to fight against her controlling parents and the marriage arrangement they had made for their daughter with a well-appointed government official. Sadly, this potentially ripe storyline about the severely patriarchal Turkey and its oppressed female youth remains an on-the-surface commentary (like several of the film’s other cultural critiques). What we are left with is the escalating madness of the loud, albeit dexterously choreographed final act that follows a helpless Yasemin run for her life.

More a collection of cool social and graphic ideas than a full-fledged, character-driven horror, “The Antenna” never gets on the same wavelength as some of the antecedents by which Behram was clearly influenced, though it still signals the welcome arrival of a promising visual artist in search of his own clear picture.

Popular on Variety

Toronto Film Review: 'The Antenna'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Discovery), Sept. 9, 2019. (Also in Fantastic Fest, BFI London Film Festival.) Running time: 115 MIN.

Production: (Turkey) A Lucidlab Films, Solis Film production. (Int'l sales: Stray Dogs, Paris.) Producer: Orçun Behram. Co-producer: Müge Özen.

Crew: Director: Orçun Behram. Camera (color): Engin Özkaya. Editor: Burç Alatas. Music: Can Demirci.

With: Ihsan Önal, Gül Arici, Levent Ünsal, Isil Zeynep, Murat Saglam, Elif Çakman, mert Toprak Yadigar, Eda Özel.

More Film

  • A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

    Film Review: 'A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon'

    No asteroids are hurtling toward Earth in “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon,” though a flying frozen pizza does softly slice the top off an elderly shopper’s hairdo: That’s roughly the level of quirky peril we’re talking about in the latest outing from Aardman Animations, and as usual, the British stop-motion masters cheerfully prove that [...]

  • Slam

    Film Review: ‘Slam’

    The disappearance of a fearless female Palestinian-Australian slam poet triggers suspense and powerful social and political commentary in “Slam,” an outstanding slow-burn thriller by expat Indian filmmaker Partho Sen-Gupta (“Sunrise”). Starring Palestinian actor Adam Bakri (“Omar,” “Official Secrets”) as the missing woman’s conflicted brother, and leading Aussie performer Rachael Blake as a troubled cop, Opening [...]

  • Igo Kantor

    Igo Kantor, Producer and Post-Production Executive, Dies at 89

    Igo Kantor, whose Hollywood career took him from Howard Hughes’ projection room to supervising post-production on “Easy Rider” and producing B-movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders” and “Mutant,” died Oct. 15. He was 89. Kantor, who was born in Vienna and raised in Lisbon, met “Dillinger” director Max Nosseck on the ship to New York. [...]

  • The Lion King

    Average Movie Ticket Price Falls 4% in Third Quarter of 2019

    Average ticket prices for the third quarter have dropped 4% to $8.93, down from Q2’s $9.26, the National Association of Theatre Owners announced today. However, compared with the third quarter of 2018, ticket price has risen 1.1% from $8.83. The summer box office is down 2.13% from 2018, though the third quarter box office is [...]

  • Tilda Swinton to Preside Over The

    Tilda Swinton to Preside Over Marrakech Film Festival

    Tilda Swinton, the iconoclastic British actress and producer, is set to preside over the 18th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, succeeding to American director James Gray. Swinton, who won an Oscar and a BAFTA award for best supporting actress for “Michael Clayton,” has been leading an eclectic acting career. She has collaborated with [...]

  • The King Netflix

    Middleburg Film Festival Brings Hollywood to Virginia

    For the last seven years, audiences have flocked to the Middleburg Film Festival. Running October 17th – 21st, and situated in the wine-country hills of historic Middleburg, Virg., the festival usually highlights some of the year’s buzziest titles, and 2019 is no exception. “We’re a smaller festival with fewer overall screenings than other events, so we [...]

  • Kelly McCormick and David Leitch'Fast &

    'Wheelman' Director to Helm 'Versus' From David Leitch, Kelly McCormick (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Wheelman” director Jeremy Rush is in negotiations to helm the action movie “Versus,” with Kelly McCormick and David Leitch producing. Rush will direct the Universal movie from a script penned by “Three Musketeers” scribe Alex Litvak and “American Assassin” writer Mike Finch. Plot details are being kept under wraps, though it will follow the genre [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content