REVIEW: Antidote (FrightFest 2021)
Antidote follows Sharyn Berkley (Ashlynn Yennie) who wakes up in a strange underground medical facility after an operation, where the doctors mutilate and torment the patients, only to then miraculously heal them with a classified medicine. Reading the latter half of the synopsis, I couldn’t help but think of Marvel’s Deadpool, which I’m a huge fan of and the premise sounded intriguing. However, the uneven pacing led to slight disappointment.
Having previously only seen Ashlynn Yennie in The Human Centipede (of all things), she’s a brilliant revelation as the lead actress here. Her performance is fairly subtle in the first half; she’s experienced a traumatic event to then not being told anything about what’s going on throughout the film. And she reacts accordingly to this, with confusion and anger which is convincing and completely warranted. Yennie does a fantastic job at making Sharyn a sympathetic character so, when the film reveals what’s really going on, the audience have already committed to the characters. Furthermore, Sharyn not being told anything means that the exposition is executed through her eyes, as she discovers more about the facility on her own or via the other patients who are also trapped there. It is a great structure to utilise, because the film shows the audience what’s going on before revealing itself through the dialogue.
But it also means that the audience and Sharyn are subjected to the horrors of the facility’s operations first-hand; we learn more about the film at the same time as the main character and this works to the film’s advantage. The rest of the cast are fantastic too; Louis Mandylor plays Dr Aaron Hellenbach, the head doctor of the ward that the film’s group of characters are in and he’s delightfully creepy. His performance is great as the mysterious doctor and his character development, just like the plot, takes its time to progress, making the audience want more as the film unravels. However, more screen-time could’ve been given to some of the other cast, as the film doesn’t develop some characters’ backgrounds. The particular ones that it doesn’t develop are ultimately very thin and forgettable, which is unfortunate because some of them do pose a real threat.
However, Antidote has uneven pacing, and it wouldn’t have suffered too much if ten minutes had been removed. The film is too long, especially considering a lot of the first act is a cycle of Sharyn being asked questions, her asking for information and someone being tortured. This section of the film goes on for too long to the point where it’s easy to become distracted by other things. And this is a shame because the latter half is where the film really shines and truly becomes a memorable piece of work.
Antidote is an enjoyable film but in retrospect it has a more interesting and memorable second half. The gore effects are fantastic and there are some scenes that leave nothing to the imagination, considering the detail of the healing medicine. With this detail included, Antidote is happy to inflict any forms of physical torture on its characters but doesn’t always show it, leaving the imagery to the imagination of its audience. As someone who is a fan of gory horror, there are definitely a couple of torture scenes that even had me looking away! The characters are also intriguing, as the audience learn more about them, and they all stand out from each other, with different backgrounds and personalities. The lead actress Ashlynn Yennie is brilliant, and she carries the film comfortably on her shoulders, with the other standout being Louis Mandylor as the creepy but mysterious Dr Aaron Hellenbach. However, some of the other characters could’ve been developed more. Furthermore, the pacing in the first act is very uneven, to the point where it’s dull up until the point where the plot progressed into more interesting territories.
The concept behind Antidote is an interesting one and the acting is great, but the film is in need of another pass through the edit. With a unique premise like this, there is always the risk of a repetitive cycle of events occurring, which unfortunately happens for too long. But, if you can survive past that, then an unexpectedly interesting film can be found.