When we think of dystopian fiction, many of us may first think of the likes of Blade Runner or Altered Carbon. Far enough off in the future, filled with bright lights, androids, flashy technology, crowded cities, maybe even flying vehicles. The Antenna instead places us into a much more realistic, and much bleaker world — and we don’t know when it takes place.
The film zooms in onto a single apartment complex in Turkey and a few residents, the cast lead by Ishan Onal as Mehmet, the building supervisor and maintenance man. All of the action takes place in a single day – a day that Mehmet’s boss Cemile is very excited about. Mehmet is responsible for overseeing the installation of an antenna for a new government program, a daily broadcast that all residents must tune into. While Cemile is proud that his building will be among the first to receive this technology, and he’s adamant that everyone will watch, the residents seem apathetic to it – just another government mandate.
Mehmet is tired — he’s clearly over-worked, with residents constantly needing things from him. He doesn’t get enough sleep, and he’s in trouble with his boss for dozing off on the job. Maybe it’s because Mehmet is so tired that he is barely fazed when the man who came to install the antenna falls off the roof because of a strange black substance. It seems that to Mehmet, this is just another day on the job, not too unlike any other.
There doesn’t seem to be much joy in Mehmet’s life. He takes a break to have a conversation with the young resident Yasemin, and he encourages her to leave their town. She asks him why he doesn’t leave too, and in one of the film’s more poignant moments, he tells her, “I will live the same life wherever I go.” While we don’t know much about this world or the lives of the characters in The Antenna, we can sense there is a mundanity and a hopelessness to their lives.
There’s a struggling couple and their young son Yusef, and there’s Yasemin, her quiet mother, and her demanding father. More moments like the conversation between Yasemin and Mehmet would have benefitted the film – it would be nice to get to know our protagonist a little better.
Through tight camera work and meticulous sound and set design, the sense of dread in The Antenna is unmistakable. Things seem just normal enough though, that the viewer is left uncertain about what exactly is going on. As the black ooze that caused the beginning of the film’s fatal fall begins to spread, so does a sense of anxiety.
When going to help an image-obsessed tenant with an issue in her bathroom, he sees the ooze again coming through the wall. Rather than investigate the issue, though, he quickly does what he can to cover up the problem and move on with his daily tasks. While the viewer becomes aware that this is an issue, and that something is wrong, Mehmet comes around to this realization much more slowly.
The Antenna is clearly trying to make a point about technology, surveillance, authoritarianism, and being too tuned in to our devices, but it fails to make the viewer care about what it’s trying to say. Ultimately, there’s not enough substance to make us care about any of the characters, and Mehmet’s passiveness is extended to the viewer. This may be intentional, as the film is about how our passiveness can allow for a loss of autonomy to government intervention and how we can slowly allow forces larger than ourselves to control our lives, but it feels ineffective here.
While The Antenna is worth watching for superb visuals and an unsettling sense of dread, it fails to deliver effective scares. As the film attempts to fit into both the science fiction and horror genres, it oozes with lackluster story telling, making for an overall disappointing experience.