North Texas Daily

Bleak ‘Antlers’ a satisfactory slow burn for the patient

Bleak ‘Antlers’ a satisfactory slow burn for the patient

Bleak ‘Antlers’ a satisfactory slow burn for the patient
November 05
12:00 2021

“All this has got to be an animal, right?”

“No animal that I’ve ever seen.”

When it comes to great folk monsters on film, the wendigo ranks nowhere near the top of the list. Despite having fairly interesting mythology rooted in the First Nations, it hasn’t had any particularly memorable appearances outside of “Until Dawn” and “Pet Sematary.” Its cinematic legacy has certainly left something to be desired, amounting to a little more than two dozen or so cheap z-movies haunting the bargain bin. However, director-writer Scott Cooper and producer Guillermo del Toro’sAntlers” has emerged from a pandemic-driven hibernation to give the horrifying hulk the big-screen treatment it deserves. 

Returning to her childhood home, a small town in Oregon, teacher Julie Meadows (Keri Russell) takes notice of outcast Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), a young, troubled child. After she and her reluctant brother, Sheriff Paul (Jesse Plemons), investigate, they find the quiet boy has been feeding small animals to his “sick” brother and father, who he has locked up in his attic. As Lucas tries to hide his secret, dismembered corpses start piling up.

A slow-burn horror, “Antlers” is largely driven by suspense and character-drama and attempts to explore abuse, addiction and man’s impact on the environment. Despite a struggle to reflect on its greater themes, the undeniably strong atmosphere, performances and effects transform Cooper and del Toro’s creature feature into a rough gem for the patient. 

While this is a genre debut for director-writer Cooper, he brings over sensibilities seen in his past work which translate sublimely. The character drama is expertly handled, with Cooper relying on steady mediums between the Meadows and more unsettling low angles during awkward and tense moments. Cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister really brings home the Northwest setting. Overcast skies, rusting small towns and the leaf-blanketed soil are richly realized, making for a palpable taste of rural Americana and adding to the film’s authentic take on its starring beast. 

Cooper also creates an incredibly grim atmosphere, the gloomy setting underlining the violent series of events. Assisted by composer Javier Navarrette, who mixes string work with melancholic piano riffs, the result is overall a hard-to-shake somber experience permeated by a truly horrific beast. 

The film is also a damn good depiction of a wendigo. This is likely the best variation of the creature, while done mostly in solid CGI. While it is mostly hidden in darkness, the glimpses we see before its full reveal intrigue rather than annoy. The transformation scene and its aftermath are both special effect marvels. A word to the squeamish, the gore and violence is intense and maybe even overbearing. 

Lead performers Russell and Plemons also turn in solid gigs, selling their dynamic as estranged siblings and flawed people caught in a tense situation. They really do sell the more subtle moments and even lift some more barebone aspects of the script. Child performer Thomas also succeeds at a really tough job, selling Lucas as a strung-out, desperate kid who is in an unbelievably bad spot. 

The script is the biggest pothole for “Antlers.” Cooper’s approach to flawed, even outright unsympathetic anti-heroes works well here, but there’s also a bit too much blatantly revealed to leave any surprise or interpretation to the audience. 

Thematically, the script is not entirely copacetic. In this Oregon setting plagued by economic downturn, rust and the opioid epidemic, the protagonists deal with addiction, cycles of poverty and past trauma. There’s not a lot said or meaningfully explored outside of Julie’s relationship with her father and her history as an implicit ex-alcoholic. 

Then there’s the Native American representation — or rather lack thereof. Despite an opening alluding to the wendigo’s indigenous origins, the only such actor is Graham Greene, who plays a retired sheriff. He only shows up three times prior to a big exposition dump before vanishing, a startingly retrograde example of a person of color whose sole plot contribution is exposition. A blow to the movie’s rather authentic setting. The ending fits the established tone and even themes, but ultimately the ideas themselves lack needed depth.

For the patient, “Antlers” will likely provide a rich descent into horror. For those less so, it will grind and even repel. Still, as a depiction of an underserved monster minority, “Antlers” is in a league of its own, even if that is not necessarily a compliment. 

Will’s final rating: 3.25/5

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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