'Antlers' review: Trauma fuels unsettling horror film
Courtesy of Searchlight
At the heart of Scott Cooper’s deeply unsettling horror film “Antlers” is a folklore about trauma, abuse, grief and everything in between. It’s a slow burning, undercooked glance behind a rural town on the brink of economic collapse in the Oregon countryside. The foggy mist radiating from the mountainside while an unseen creature ravishes through a community with literally nothing to lose. Produced by Guillermo del Toro, “Antlers” sneaks up on the viewer and though it might detour into repetitiveness, its biggest advantage, much like Cooper’s previous film “Out of the Furnace,” is how it dissects real world issues, opening the floodgates for genuine terror that proves the only thing we have to fear is ourselves.
An impressive and moody endeavour with an ensemble playing to their strengths, “Antlers,” which was supposed to come out in April 2020 and is based on the Antosca’s short story “The Quiet Boy,” gestates in a small, blue collar town where life is far from normal. Riddled with meth labs and other types of addiction, Cooper doesn’t shy away from the metaphor of his story and how countless communities each year are left to fend for themselves like the ones depicted here. Keri Russell plays Julia, and Jesse Plemons is her brother Paul, the town sheriff. The pair, two estranged siblings back under the same roof after a rough childhood that saw an abusive father torment them daily, are facing a new external threat, one that’s shaken the usually somber village.
Recently relocated from California, Julia has begun teaching again, taking a gig at the school where she notices something is off about one of her students, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas - terrific). Aside from hiding in the back of the classroom and drawing disturbing photographs, Lucas looks malnourished and sleep deprived. We later discover Lucas’ mother passed away and he, along with littler brother Aiden (Sawyer Jones), are being taken care of by their father, Frank (Scott Haze) who has a reputation for dealing drugs, but there’s darker elements at play. In the film’s harrowing opening sequence, Frank is attacked and he eventually comes down with a transformative sickness. One that causes his chest to change color, and the veins on his arms to pop out, but Lucas locks him in the attic, hoping things won’t get worse. Spoiler alert: they do.
Plemons and Russell are two powerhouses who do the most with minimal character development. Brief scenes where the siblings reflect on their childhood doesn’t hit as hard as one would expect, but the unrelenting sturdiness of everything Cooper puts around them elevates “Antlers” to a place of appreciation. Del-Toro’s touch is felt throughout the film’s third act where fantastical and horror collide as these characters have to battle their own demons. Cooper maintains “Antlers” sense of purpose even when things start going awry and the track gets thrown for a loop. Embedded in its core, however, is a story of identity that might not always mix with several themes littered throughout, but it sure does leave an impact.
ANTLERS is now playing in theaters.