Last week I carelessly mused that the age of COVID-19 might not be the most propitious time in which to enjoy a horror movie. This week I’m going to pretend I never said any of that, because my attention has since been drawn to a pair of chillers that (despite being made on different continents) share some surprising and unusual thematic similarities that piqued my interest — and may also pique yours.
Leading the way is Bina (The Antenna), a political allegory from Turkey masquerading (very successfully, as luck would have it) as a creepy tale of supernatural terror. Now streaming via all major platforms, it’s the best genre film of the year.
Written and directed by Orçun Behram, The Antenna stars Ihsan Önal as Mehmet, a sad-sack maintenance man plying his trade in a crumbling big city apartment building. It’s a dull job, but after a government worker installs a new satellite dish things suddenly take a turn for the interesting: first, the worker falls to his death immediately after activating the dish; then, a black, tarry substance begins oozing through the walls and dripping from the taps.
Mehmet finds this all rather odd, but building supervisor Cihan (Levent Ünsal) thinks nothing of it. Brusquely dispatched to re-tile a tenant’s stained shower and remove the yucky substance clogging her pipes, Mehmet quickly becomes convinced that something is seriously wrong.
Indeed, there’s a lot more to the ubiquitous black gunk than meets the eye. As it creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor — slipping its way into the boiler room and onto a resident’s dinner plate — propaganda broadcasts begin blasting through the building via that fancy new satellite dish, the government’s reassuring yet creepy bulletins (“power is our fate”) numbing viewers before the goo subsumes them.
Utilizing some of the ‘body horror’ tropes of early David Cronenberg (Shivers, Rabid) along with a generous dollop of Jack Finney’s ‘Body Snatchers’ mythos and, yes, a heaping helping of The Blob —The Antenna ladles on atmosphere without ever tipping its hand. Don’t worry, though – you’ll get the point soon enough. One wonders what President Erdoğan thinks of it.
‘Tar’ is about a monster lurking in La Brea Tarpits
Initially, I wasn’t going to review Tar (also streaming widely), but considering its all-American creature is a (spoiler alert) tar monster lurking in Southern California’s La Brea Tarpits, the synchronicity overwhelmed me. Despite featuring Timothy Bottoms (‘That’s My Bush!’, The Paper Chase), Tar is a carelessly written affair with a monster that, despite being gooey, isn’t very scary. However, if you feel like watching the only two movies ever made starring a dark brown or black viscous liquid of hydrocarbons and free carbon as the baddie, this is your chance.
‘Song Without a Name’ packs a punch
Finally, if you’re in the mood for something more serious, Pacific Film Archive has got you covered with Cancion sin hombre (Song Without a Name). This gut wrenching Peruvian drama, beautifully lensed in black and white by Inti Briones, features chipmunk-cheeked Tommy Párraga as a cub reporter trying to shut down the pregnancy clinic that’s stolen impoverished peasant Georgina’s (Pamela Mendoza) newborn infant. Writer-director Melina León’s first feature, Song Without a Name meanders a little but still packs a punch.