Monday, 7 October 2019

The Antenna

Sludge Dread

The Antenna (aka Bina)
Directed by Orcun Behram
2019 Turkey
London Film Festival 2019 screening Friday 4th October

Wow. This was only my second film of this year’s London Film Festival and it’s truly astonishing.

The Antenna is a Turkish, dystopian sci-fi horror movie set in the, presumably, fairly near future. The film mostly follows the antics of Mehmet, a night watchman and maintenance man for a block of flats in a compellingly Orwellian society, as played by Ihsan Önal. However, Mehmet has had some trouble sleeping of late and the looks of Önal in the role really help convey this exhaustion in the character. The make up on him is wonderful, with the huge bags under his eyes giving him an almost cartoonish appearance and a somewhat humorous disposition as he tries to cope with the challenges of one day of watching the building... under the watchful eye of his manager who also lives in the same apartment block and who has heard that Mehmet keeps dozing off on the job.

However, all is not well because today is the day the state have chosen to have one of their new satellite antennae attached to this particular block, so that the residents can see... you get the feeling it is entirely compulsory viewing... the latest propaganda machine at work. The first sign that anything is wrong is when the guy doing the installation falls from the roof with both a sickening thud and good comic timing as Mehmet is looking out the window of his cupboard of an office. He goes to investigate but finds nothing amiss except some black, sludgy stuff leaking from the newly installed kit on the roof. Is this something to do, perhaps, with the black sludge oozing through the walls of one of the tenant’s bathroom? As Mehmet begins to investigate the ensuing oddities, which start off almost as Kafkaesque surrealism before going ‘the full Lovecraft’ as people receive the sludgy transmission into their basic DNA, the deaths start coming too. Is Mehmet the unlikely hero who can save the day or is this weird mix of bureaucratic nightmare coupled with eldritch, Chthuhian horror something which is unstoppable?

Well, obviously I’m not going to tell you but I will say that this film was an absolute joy to watch and, within the first ten minutes, it struck me just why I was responding to it the way I did. Or rather, the nostalgic rush I was getting from it?

That is to say... this movie felt like something straight out of the 1980s. Seriously, you remember when, in the mid 1980s (apologies to younger readers here), you stayed up late past your bedtime to watch something on either Channel 4 or BBC2 and ended up discovering something which completely compelled you to keep watching without understanding why? This film felt just like that. It felt like the first viewing of an early David Lynch movie like Eraserhead, mixed together with something like David Cronenberg’s Videodrome with, just a dash, of government satire thrown in for good measure. I mean, it was that good.

The film is slow paced but... and somehow this works... the director takes these slow paced scenes and cuts them up into sections. So, for example, a very early scene in the film where Mehmet is walking to work reminded me of the scene early on in Eraserhead of Jack Nance walking along the industrial estate in one, long, uncut static shot. Except, here, the director managed to maintain that same atmosphere with lots of cuts and angle changes. And this is something he does all the way through the movie.

As when, in the scene introducing us to Mehmet as he gets up from his bed and irons his clothing. It’s quite meticulously paced but, instead of showing his tiny, cramped space where he performs all these actions in one static shot... which is all we need to get the layout of his quarters in our head... the director shows us the interior from almost every conceivable angle during the sequence. And even though some of the people and objects placed in the frame on the widescreen of the film tend to jump about and jar using this technique, the director seems to ‘get away with it’ quite well in the edit and it rarely pops you out of the action. This must have been a hard film to cut together actually but... yeah, it’s a bit of a masterpiece.

Another thing he does often is hold a shot with a character or object in sharp focus while the main action is taking place in a different part of the screen in the blurred areas. He does this a couple of times and... I’m not quite sure why, truth be told... but it seems to work out really well for him so, no complaints here.

Also, a nice touch is that when a death comes, the director tends to linger on it for a while, showing the real trauma involved. There was one character who I was not expecting to die, to be honest, right in the end sections of the movie. I was certainly expecting the character to live, due to an interaction this person has with Mehmet earlier in the movie but, when death comes and the character is stabbed... after the assailant has walked off scene, the director stays with the victim for quite a while to focus on the ragged and constantly diminishing breathing of the person who has been assaulted. This touch of reality in an otherwise absurd and increasingly incomprehensible, surrealistic nightmare environment is an interesting choice and, perhaps, it’s what gives the film its sense of gravitas towards the end.

The Antenna looks great, is well acted, has some great special effects and some truly ‘low key but effective’ human hybrid creature design. Given my limited experience of Turkish movies, I wasn’t expecting anything near this good from them and it was certainly an eye opener for me. This one may well be my ‘film of the festival’ and I really hope this one gets some kind of commercial, US or UK physical release because I really want to grab this one on Blu Ray when I can. An awesome film of authoritative oppression mixed in with demonic, or possibly alien, collaboration where the stakes are extremely high... this one will haunt you long after it finishes. I must try and catch this astonishing celluloid mystery again at some point soon. Absolute brilliance.

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