2.5 out of 5 stars

As a horror and crime fan, and one of the presidents of the Scott Cooper fan club, Antlers has been high on my anticipation list for ages. A horrific creature running amok in a small town, so the townsfolk have to figure out what’s going on? Sign me up! Even with the trailer playing before seemingly every movies released over the past two years, my excitement didn’t wane. Unfortunately, Antlers ended up being a disappointment…

That’s not to say Antlers isn’t worth seeing. In typical Cooper fashion, the atmosphere is rich and he has a way of making the outdoors feel foreboding, even when a folkloric creature isn’t running around causing chaos. Mileage may vary when it comes to his output, but I found films like Out of the Furnace (2013), Black Mass (2015), and especially Hostiles (2017) to be affecting, meditative genre exercises—even if the plots weren’t always up to par. And it doesn’t hurt that he continually casts great actors.

Antlers is more of the same, except in this instance, the film and its talented cast struggle to overcome the narrative’s shortcomings. Set in small-town Oregon, Antlers opens with a pair of meth dealers, led by Frank Weaver (Scott Haze), encountering a strange creature in their lab hidden deep inside an abandoned mine. Weaver’s young son Aiden (Sawyer Jones), who’s waiting for his father outside the mine, also encounters the creature, and afterwards both Frank and Aiden become very ill, so older son Lucas (a debuting Jeremy T. Thomas) is forced to care for the sick pair.

Lucas’s school teacher, Julia Meadows (Keri Russell), senses something is wrong, and the disturbing drawings and a story he presents in class only make her suspicions grow. Meadows, who’s returned to her hometown following her father’s recent suicide, is living with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), the local sheriff, for the time being, and her own family’s past traumas make her particularly sympathetic toward Lucas. She wants to help the boy, but in order to do so she feels she needs to know what’s happening at home, even if her brother warns her that the Weaver family usually spells trouble.

Plemons and Russell are incredibly watchable actors. They elevate anything they’re in and that’s again true here, as they infuse their characters with a deep sense of melancholy. They’re trying their best with the material… but the script does them no favours. Based on The Quiet Boy, a 2019 short story by co-writer Nick Antosca, published in Guernica magazine, this adaptation would’ve been stronger with fewer ideas swirling around. Themes of familial abuse, environmentalism, and many others, come off as undercooked rather than as part of a larger tapestry cleverly woven together. There’s a great family drama buried in here, and a great creature feature too, but not every horror film needs to try and be as multi-layered as Hereditary (2018). Most thrives on simplicity.

However, the stuff that works about Antlers works really well. Scenes involving the creature are gross and effectively scary at times, with Cooper and cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister creating some nightmarish images. Thomas’s performance as Lucas is also strong and, as with Russell, he makes you see the emotional anguish his character’s going through. Rory Cochrane (who’s becoming a Cooper regular with his third consecutive appearance in one of his movies) also shows up as a cop, and the legendary Graham Greene provides pathos as Paul’s predecessor as sheriff. He also introduces the Meadows siblings to the ingenious wendigo legend, which is what he believes to be happening to the Weaver’s.

With fewer themes to tackle, a touch more focus, and a tad less seriousness, Antlers could have been a great horror movie. But it’s middle of the road entertainment, although I’d always rather watch something ambitious like this because it’s at least an interesting failure.


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Cast & Crew

director: Scott Cooper.
writers: C. Henry Chaisson, Nick Antosca & Scott Cooper (based on ‘The Quiet Boy’ by Nick Antosca).
starring: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane & Amy Madigan.