By CHRIS HALLOCK
Starring Ashlynn Yennie, Louis Mandylor, Augie Duke, Yorgos Karamihos
Directed and Written by Peter Daskaloff
The horror genre typically takes a cautionary stance when it comes to medical science by exploiting our fears of the invasive procedures and intense isolation we may encounter while hospitalized. Many works transport us to shadowy corridors of creepy medical facilities where bizarre experiments are carried out by well-meaning researchers who succumb to god-complexes or other psychosis, whose methods devolve into sadism in the name of discovery. Peter Daskaloff’s ANTIDOTE operates in this mode, but by concentrating mainly on the gruesome torture imagery endured by his characters, he misses an opportunity to engage with the loftier discussions the setup inspires.
In the opening, Sharyn (The Human Centipede’s Ashlynn Yennie) is hospitalized with painful appendicitis. She wakes up from surgery in an underground facility with no memory of going under the knife, only aware that she now has a rapidly healing incision on her torso. She learns from other captives that she’s been recruited against her will to be a subject in an experiment involving a serum that rejuvenates horribly damaged bodies. The facility is headed by Dr. Hellenbach (Louis Mandylor), a researcher whose crusade results in the mutilation of his subjects’ bodies by power tools, fire, or worse, in the name of the greater good. What follows is a parade of atrocities endured by Sharyn, who plots her escape amid the carnage unfolding around her.
ANTIDOTE has less in common with hospital-set cult classics like Visiting Hours (1982) or Dr. Giggles (1992), and is more akin to contemporary work like the Saw series or The Facility (2012), where the viewer is forced to maneuver through blood-drenched set-pieces. In this instance it mostly works, however the backstory Daskaloff concocts for Sharyn (told through flashbacks that connect us to her prior life) is inconsistent with the trajectory of the story as it meets its conclusion.
Instead, the film takes a surprise detour in the third act that results in a confusing denouement which casts aside everything we’ve learned about her through her memories – such as infidelity and suicide. Kudos to Daskaloff for attempting to introduce some existential depth to the story, which may have come together more effectively had he taken another pass during the writing phase. Unfortunately, the resulting lack of cohesion in the final product is difficult to overlook.
Daskaloff clearly favors gruesome funhouse atmosphere over story dynamics. The viewer is primarily following along with Sharon as she wanders room to room, bearing witness to the horrible abuses endured by her fellow test subjects. The production is proficient, with cinematographer Lucas Pitassi’s camerawork standing out, pacing and the film is well-paced with impressively choreographed sequences that reveal images of suffering as we move through the corridors. Daskaloff does attempt to invoke tension through the sound design and isolated atmosphere, but the freak show construction, flashing lights, disembodied screams, and cheap jump scares, feel a little too routine to elicit emotion.
ANTIDOTE may have achieved a higher level of sophistication had Daskaloff weighed elements of our contemporary cultural climate against the backdrop. The garish images of masked clinicians sawing off limbs are inherently nightmarish, and may have resonated more soundly if contextualized with today’s urgent anxieties in mind. As presented, the film is designed strictly for graphic sensationalism that doesn’t fully capitalize on the claustrophobic setting, and lacks a palpable emotional anchor from its lead. Those seeking simple gory escapism may give this effort a pass, while others will find the shallow attempt forgettable.
ANTIDOTE is available now on VOD and DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment.