Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Antenna: The Horror of Turkish Propaganda

Regardless of genre or cultural biases, creeping black slime is always a bad thing. The same is also always true of all-encompassing state propaganda. A dingy Turkish high-rise apartment complex will have to contend with both. Rather logically, they are most likely related in Orcun Behram’s analog dystopian horror film, The Antenna, which releases virtually this Friday.

This is an auspicious day according to Cihan, the bullying building manager, because the installation of the oppressive government’s new communications system will allow residents to receive propaganda bulletins whenever the government wishes. However, the downtrodden look of his nightwatchman-handyman Mehmet is much closer to expressing reality. Most people would consider it a bad sign when the state engineer installing the antenna plunges to his death, but the demoralized and desensitized residents just shrug.

Cihan is suspiciously keen for all residents to listen to the inaugural midnight broadcast, but Mehmet is not particularly curious, especially since he has been so busy with repairs related to the black sludge oozing into the pipes and electrical system. Even though it doesn’t make sense, it seems like it is emanating from the regime’s new ballyhooed antenna.

Behram’s film has the astringent aesthetics of an art film and the gooey grossness of an alien horror movie. Obviously, the film is a not-so veiled allegorical critique of Erdogan’s increasingly Islamist authoritarian rule. However, Behram still takes care of the genre business. There are some truly disgusting scenes in
Antenna, but they make an important point, besides grossing the heck out of everyone. The vibe is a lot like The Eyes of My Mother or The Lighthouse, but the stakes are higher, since all the micro-creepiness is most likely a by-product of the dystopian macro-conspiracy.

As Mehmet, the gaunt, haunted-looking Ihsan Onal could pass for a younger cousin to John Hurt’s Winston Smith in Michael Radford’s
1984, which makes him pretty much perfect. In fact, there is something strangely compelling about his self-awareness as a hopeless loser. Gul Arici also has harrowing moments as the relatively independent-minded Yasemin, whose socially rigid father starts acting even more psychotic than normal.

Yet, it is the chilly, inhospitable setting and Behram’s unsettling visuals that probably make the strongest impression. The building is truly a soul-deadening environment. The antenna and its Lynchian broadcast just expedite the process. Indeed, the notion of regime-edifying propaganda causing corrosive physical effects is quite provocative and timely. Highly recommended for fans of art-house horror and science fiction,
The Antenna opens virtually this Friday (10/2).