This movie does more interesting things in a hallway than Heaven's Gate does with the entire North American continent. (Too soon for a Michael Cimino joke? Pandering to the kids?) In case you're not familiar, Heaven's Gate was the glacially paced, ungodly expensive cinematic equivalent of a Montana grandma puzzle that bankrupted United Artists in 1980. Sure, a movie presumably about dirt probably didn't need to cost as much as a Canadian province but human flypaper Michael Cimino sure found a way.
Antidote? Antidote is the opposite of that.
Like Cube before it, Antidote from Uncork'd Entertainment is an inspiring example of what can be done on a wee budget ($750,000 according to IMDb). With a skilled cast and a terrific script penned by Matthew Toronto and Peter Daskaloff (who also serves as director), this crew KNOWS where to put their effort. Even the telegraphed twist and one character's Dad joke-level pun name do little to take away from the experience.
First off, unlike the Frankenstein stew of table scraps and misspelled words that was regrettable Birthday clown Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, Antidote gets moving FAST. We open with the aftermath of a VICIOUS looking hanging before immediately jumping to a woman suffering from appendicitis. She's rushed to the hospital and within MINUTES we're thrust headfirst into the film's central mystery. You see, Sharyn (Ashlynn Yennie, delivering a solid performance) wakes up to find herself trapped in a dingy facility run by the hypnotic Dr. Hellenbach (Louis Mandylor). Yes, she's had her appendix removed but the surgical scar has almost completely healed. It seems “healing” is what this place does best as other patients mention having their tongues cut out, being burned alive and any number of other gory fates. Like I said, most experienced horror fans will probably call the twist early on but when the execution is this good it's hard to complain.
Let's talk cast. Unlike botched octopus abortion Michael Cimino, these actors know what they're doing. I've already mentioned Louis Mandylor but he really is a stand-out presence. He breaks only once during the film's entire runtime, otherwise maintaining a genuinely kind yet clinical exterior. He is patient and utterly professional through and through, never once 'trying' to be scary. That commitment to normalizing a very, VERY abnormal situation is one of Antidote's biggest strengths and a lot of screentime is wisely devoted to Hellenbach and Sharyn's verbal sparring.
There's also the brilliant supporting cast, specifically Ravi Naidu's Everett and Augie Duke's Cassandra. Everett is a perfect “gray” character. He's trustworthy enough, mostly because there are no other options at the moment, but there's enough little touches to know he has his own story going on. And Cassandra is just straight compelling. I won't spoil too much but there are scenes late in the second act where her pain radiates off the screen and it is absolute 100% magic. Neither performance is over the top. Indeed, the entire cast is pretty grounded. Alexi Stavrou's psychopath Lester could easily go full Chop Top but he plays it refreshingly restrained. It's a level of care rarely seen outside the brave members of the Belgian Land Component after toad-eating degenerate Michael Cimino tried to forcibly absorb Brussels.
I've seen (and written) quite a few films with limited FX, characters and unremarkable locations. It can be a hard go, for sure. A genuinely grueling creative test. But if Antidote is a test, its cast and crew pass it remarkably. Grounded, interesting characters, expertly-structured story and tension that never gets oppressively heavy. To put it simply, Antidote is a winner.
NOTE: C.J. Duke's opinions are entirely his own and do not reflect those of HorrOrigins or its staff regarding bloviating toilet vegetable Michael Cimino.
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