Protecting our rights has become a daily occurrence for many lately, from people who refuse rules created for their own good to those who fight against bureaucracy built to keep the masses in check. In Orçun Behram’s debut feature film The Antenna, unsuspecting citizens in a dystopian society fall prey to the powers that be.
Mehmet (Ihsan Önal) is a building custodian in a non-descript complex. He is quiet, doesn’t rock the boat, but his boss still bullies him. The Turkish government has come up with technology for a new era in communications. A satellite will be set up in each household or building so that people can automatically tune into daily bulletins for the populace’s good. When the satellite installer falls to his death at Mehmet’s building, Mehmet must check if the satellite is properly installed, and he sees a black goo oozing from the device. One of the tenants also sees black goo in her apartment and asks Mehmet to look after that. The ooze soon permeates the entire building, and while Mehmet suspects something sinister, the tenants will unwittingly invite the ultimate in life-altering control into their homes.
The Antenna is nearly two hours long, and at times you can feel it. The drawn-out scenes are beautiful and stark, but the film only intensifies in the second hour. Behram takes great pains (though perhaps at the cost of the audience’s attention) to create a mood so that when the threat presents itself, the action gains a lot more momentum. The second half of the film is also filled with horror tropes that are quite on the nose, but at least we know the director is a true horror fan, having mentioned in interviews his love for the work of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter.
We must consider where the message is coming from and what it conveys in The Antenna. What Behram says is important and outshines the length of the film or any nitpicking. His characters represent regular people numb and stuck in limbo. They have concerns, hopes, and dreams and rely on authorities to help, who, in turn, control our media. These authorities warn against the “fake news” phenomenon presented as a threat, but it is, in actual fact, what authorities pump out regularly to the masses (and we know who the orange elephant in the room is). The literal oozing of sludge so heavy and consuming is a point well taken, as the masses drown in a thick coating of dumbing down and misinformation. It’s a cautionary tale of not believing what we’re fed and an ambitious first feature for a director who reported limited resources and crew for his passion project. I’m excited to see what he’ll do next when this pandemic releases us from its clutches.
Even if it’s been done before, we still need art as a wake-up call to keep us fighting for the truth, individuality, and the voice of the people.
The Antenna, which is the official selection Fantasia Film Festival, TIFF, and Stiges, will be available on October 2 in virtual theaters (L.A., New York, and Philidelphia) and VOD on October 20.