Turkish filmmaker Orcun Behram is a big fan of genre directors called David. At least, that’s true if his new film The Antenna is anything to go by. It’s a woeful sci-fi tinged horror movie that alludes to Cronenberg and Lynch with completely understandable devotion, but is so desperate not to appear derivative that it loses sight of a crucial ingredient both of those filmmakers bake into their work – entertainment. The Antenna is a lot of things, but it’s never entertaining.
It’s set in a charcoal grey dystopian Turkey, focusing on an anonymous high-rise tower block. The state is installing new aerials on it and similar buildings as part of a new “central broadcast system”, which will initially air a daily “midnight bulletin” but will eventually expand to 24-hour content that is heavily hinted to be compulsory viewing for occupants. Mehmet (Ihsan Önal) is the wide-eyed superintendent overseeing the residents from his little outbuilding, but gets more than he bargained for when the engineer installing the antenna falls to his death and residents begin to report black goo oozing through the walls and ceilings.
But this is a difficult place to live, even before the walls start gushing black. It’s a rickety tower of peeling paint, filthy walls and in which every tap seems to be permanently dripping. Behram certainly develops a visually stylised dystopia, particularly as Mehmet makes a shocking discovery in the chaotic third act or in a dream sequence in which he vividly imagines cables sprouting from his scalp.
The Antenna has style to burn, but it suffers from lacking any clarity of vision on a thematic level. It’s obviously about surveillance and state control stuff, with specific relevance given Erdoğan’s regime in Turkey, but there’s very little meat on the bones of this story. Behram gets so bogged down in his surreal, Lynchian flourishes and Cronenbergian body horror elements – Videodrome is the most obvious touchstone – that he completely loses sight of any depth. By the time he nicks a plot point wholesale from a Tennant-era episode of Doctor Who, my eyes were rolling so much it was probably audible in the cinema.
Önal’s central performance is never convincing and is entirely made up of overwrought tics. Indeed, his work almost disappears entirely when the style of the production design is amplified in the final third. He’s out of his depth, and looks it. Other supporting characters are fleetingly introduced for the sake of a lengthy, aimless dialogue scene – or to munch on a goo-infected steak – only to have very little impact on the over-arching narrative.
But most deadly of all is the running time. The film knocks on the door of two hours and feels twice as long as that, unfolding in near-real time that feels as if it may well be going backwards. Despite the copious style and obviously cine-literate influences, The Antenna is a slog and a half. It’s a tedious downward spiral into the empty heart of nothing in particular.
Dir: Orcun Behram
Scr: Orcun Behram
Cast: Ihsan Önal, Gül Arici, Levent Ünsal, Murat Saglam, Elif Cakman, Enis Yildiz, Eda Özel
Prd: Orcun Behram, Muge Ozen
DOP: Engin Özkaya
Run time: 115 mins
The Antenna is screening at the BFI London Film Festival.