Antlers (2021) Review!!

Synopsis – In an isolated Oregon town, a middle-school teacher and her sheriff brother become embroiled with her enigmatic student, whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with a legendary ancestral creature who came before them.

My Take – With horror being the most in genre currently it was only natural that director Scott Cooper, known for films like Crazy Heart (2009), Out of the Furnace (2013), Black Mass (2015) and Hostiles (2017), tried his hand too, allowing him demonstrate his best visual skills, especially considering the fact Guillermo del Toro is his mentor (and producer), someone who over the years has mastered the art of crafting a fully-realized world and plunging his audience into his creative mind.

Based on Nick Antosca‘s short story ‘The Quiet Boy’, and co-written with C. Henry Chaisson, here, director Cooper offers the genre’s often appreciated requisite moodiness and scares, resulting in a film that works as a dark slow-burn that’s part monster horror, part psychological drama, and a straight-up gore-fest, all immersed in a bleak and hopeless atmosphere.

But while the film is genuinely terrifying, thematically the film also suffers from biting off more than it can chew as it attempts to tackle too much in 99 minutes. Hereby overburdening the narrative with underdeveloped topical subjects, like bullying, abuse, trauma, and environmental deterioration.

Nevertheless, if one is looking to amass themselves inside some stunning visuals and some satisfyingly grossness, there’s plenty of crunching bones and half-chewed bodies, to qualify the film as a pretty good pick, even if it is director Scott Cooper‘s weakest effort yet.

Set in a remote Oregon town, following a terrifying opening sequence, the story follows Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), the 12-year-old son of a local drug addict, Frank (Scott Haze), who for the past three weeks has been solely taking care of his widower father and younger brother Aiden (Sawyer Jones) since they found themselves infected in an abandoned mine and progressively became dangerous. Now locked away in their home, all this time Lucas has been killing small animals and collecting roadkill to feed them, with the experience slowly perverting his mind and filling his head with dark thoughts.

However, his behavior and notebook filled with violent drawings catches the attention of his teacher Julia (Kerri Russell), an abuse victim herself who has recently returned to town, who is determined to help Lucas at any cost. Enlisting the help of her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), the local sheriff, they soon find themselves dealing with a series of murders possibly linked to an age-old terrifying myth which may have just let loose.

Right from the very first scene the film seems like a traditional horror with the occasional judiciously placed jump scare and gore thrown in. But it is director Cooper’s input that imbues that elevates the film to a story that isn’t just about a boogeyman. There is also no denying that director Cooper knows how to create a good atmosphere, something which is crucial for a horror film where most of its plot will be conveyed through its visuals rather than its script.

As unflinching as he is when portraying gore, he is unafraid to delve deep into raw, psychological terror. With tremendous help from cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, director Cooper juxtaposes the awe-inspiring beauty of the Oregon wilderness against the ugliness of the events that unfold, therein emphasizing humanity’s penchant for senseless destruction.

Even producer Guillermo del Toro’s touch is evident in every frame, imbued with symbolism and allusions to ancient lore. Even the creature effects are impressively gnarly, with some visceral transformation sequences stylishly captured, showing the audience just the right amount to stir up nightmares.

Unfortunately, the script lets him down. It’s disappointing to see that the film does not live up to its expectations. It’s a real shame there wasn’t more focus on the Indigenous legend, as that’s what makes the story compelling in a horror capacity. Aside from a very welcome cameo by Graham Greene as the local Indigenous person with knowledge of such things, we don’t get enough of it. Instead the film keeps wanting to move to the next scene, and the next, and the next, sacrificing a potentially brilliant world (and character) building in the process.

However, where the film most struggles is when it tries to stretch out its themes, especially using Julia and Paul who frequently reference the abuse they experienced in their childhoods. Whilst Lucas’ journey of self-discovery and recovery is undoubtedly the true purpose of the film, the themes of abuse and trauma completely feel underdeveloped, leaving one wondering exactly what the point of this social commentary is if it isn’t going to be explored to its fullest.

Performance wise, Kerri Russell is in terrific form as psychologically wounded woman who’s only starting to heal when this young boy enters her life with telltale signs of an abuse that’s all too familiar to her. Jesse Plemons feel underused, though he makes the most of his screen time. However, James T. Thomas is the real revelation of the film, who infuses his character of Lucas with this subtle haunted quality.

In other roles, Scott Haze, Amy Madigan, Rory Cochrane, Jake T. Roberts, and Graham Greene are all good. On the whole, ‘Antlers’ is a flawed yet decently crafted moody horror flick.

Directed – Scott Cooper

Starring – Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas

Rated – R

Run Time – 99 minutes

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