Antlers Movie Review
Abuse comes in many forms, but when it manifests as a wendigo in a small Oregon town, truly unpleasant things happen. The uplifting movie of the year, Antlers is a dark, gory, and bleak horror-thriller that fills you with those warm fuzzies and makes your mouth taste like lollipops.
Keri Russell and Jesse Plemmons star as an elementary school teacher and her sheriff brother who stumble across a Native American demon-creature-thing that likes to eat people. The thing has taken hold of the father of one of her students (played by Jeremy T. Thomas, who looks a lot like a malnourished and traumatized version of the kid from Love, Actually), though thankfully the child has locked his dad, and his little brother, in the attic and occasionally feeds them raw roadkill.
From Scott Cooper, who directed the equally insidious Crazy Heart, Antlers is an efficiently told and somber tale that relishes in its seriousness. Soaked with murky greens and dark browns, Cooper establishes a dreary yet absorbing atmosphere that sucks you in almost immediate, with promises of utter darkness.
Boasting a few effective scares and splashes of gore, but more than anything a promise of feeling completely unsettled for an hour and a half, Antlers is a haunting experience through and through. Still, it doesn’t entirely capitalize on the themes of trauma and abuse that Cooper hints at.
The movie more than hints at abuse in the adult siblings’ past, at the hands of their father. Yet the parallels Cooper establishes between past and present don’t entirely align, and are largely abandoned in the third act altogether. The result is a movie that attempts to appear more sophisticated than it actually is. Strip away some of the empty themes and you’re left with a relatively straightforward monster flick that is still quite effective, but not necessarily groundbreaking. Interestingly, despite being about a wendigo, the story seems very uninterested in the indigenous myth aside from having veteran actor Graham Greene showing up for a few scenes to explain how to kill the monster.
Accepting it for what it is, Antlers nonetheless has plenty to offer. The dynamic between the kid and his father and brother is pretty fascinating, frightening, and sad; if anything, the film could have delved further into their unique familial situation. This is the most compelling and unique aspect of the film, yet Cooper doesn’t appear to realize it.
Antlers is an effective and troubling horror film that comes close to being something great. At least it puts a smile on your face and makes you feel that special glow you get when a loved one hugs you. And really, that’s all we really need from a movie like this.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.