Updated: Feb 6
A Cold, Brooding Take on the Wendigo
Score 8/10 - Recommend
Posted by Anthony DeRouen | January 17th, 2022
Watching Antlers on the big screen reminded me of Sinister: the 2012 Scott Derrickson film which starred Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance. It’s dreary, bereft of hope and somehow leaves you wanting to know more about the mythology behind the titular creature, and how the filmmakers crafted the harrowing narrative. The scores for both films are composed and arranged in such a way the on screen horror is amplified to frightening new heights. Sound design is a pillar of good horror movies, and both directors clearly understood this going in. Sure, if you peel away enough of Antlers' layers you may find a less than satisfying journey through a forgotten town in central Oregon, but for genre fans who are looking for dread, gore, and awe-inspiring creature work ANTLERS delivers.
Adapted from the short story "The Quiet Boy" by Nick Antosca (who partakes in screen credit with director Scott Cooper and C. Henry Chaisson), the movie establishes a sharp and creepy mood which loses steam the farther along the journey goes. The story follows a young boy named Lucas (played by 15 year-old Jeremy T. Thomas) who is taking care of his sick father, or whatever is left of him. The boy is seriously troubled and his school teacher (played by Keri Russel) takes notice.
Our perspectives shift between the boy and the teacher as the story unfolds and the terror locked in the poor boy’s attic takes shape. Both performances are done well, and we as the audience are drawn and hooked into their plight. This in turn may create some polarizing reviews based on perspective: while we are sold on the premise and it’s engaging characters (Jesse Plemons as the town sheriff stands out) the film suffers from a few narrative missteps. The queues to Native American folklore are highlights that demanded more exposure to fully flesh out the story.
Filmmakers leveraging the horror medium as a means to communicate various real world contemporary ailments is an age old tradition. Writer and director Scott Cooper weaves a dark and chilling story of abuse in multiple forms. Oftentimes the focus is too heavy on the human born calamities and the wendigo takes a back seat in its own film. Keri Russel’s arc, while meaningful to the character, takes us away from the present day horror unfolding in Cispus Falls. One can also take issue on how heavy-handed the abuse is laid upon Jeremy T. Thomas. The young actor is game for the role and stands out as the film’s highlight, but in this instance less can have been far more effective and regarded.
In all this mention has to go to Guillermo Del Toro, and the influence he had on Antlers. In watching the behind the scenes featurettes you realize how involved he was, and the finished product reflects this, for better or worse. The film is representative of his love of creature design, and the awe-inspiring wonder it generates.
I wanted to take a moment and congratulate the illustrator(s) work on the children's drawings the boy arranged in class. As a massive fan of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books I loved the various works of horror on display here. The drawings were representative of the various stages the boy's nightmares and grew more horrific as the film went on. It goes without saying, any child crafting this type of visceral terror requires immediate parental and medical assistance. Not since Jennifer Kent's The Babadook had I been blow away by such fanciful nightmares scribbled in crayon.
As mentioned, the story’s narrative hints at grander ideas not fully realized. The screen time used to dissect the human emotional trauma could have been spent shaping the wendigo’s arc. The film’s end happens too quickly and easily, leaving the 95 minute run time in a state of confusion. We revel in the creature’s grotesque and frankly disturbing appearance, but lament how cleanly Scott Cooper ties off the film’s adjoining narratives.
Despite its drawbacks Antlers is a taut, skillfully made thriller that explores areas of the human condition we normally do not explore in popular cinema. There's plenty in Scott Cooper's latest effort to satisfy all levels of horror enthusiasts. I wanted to give this film a 9 out of 10 for it's edge of your seat tension and creature work, but the wendigo finds itself playing second fiddle to human born issues a little too much for my liking.