PG Score: 8/10
Antlers is a grim and unsettling affair that showcases slow-burn scares with substantial payoff. Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart and Black Mass), who also co-wrote the screenplay, fuses forceful character drama with first-rate folk horror to strengthen the terrifying experience.
Adapted from a short story called The Quiet Boy by Nick Antosca, the atmospheric horror flick takes place in a remote, dilapidated Oregon town and follows a middle school teacher (Keri Russell) and her sheriff brother (Jesse Plemons) as they uncover a dark secret harbored by a strange child (Jeremy T. Thomas).
del Toro's Touch
Producer Guillermo del Toro’s (Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water) influence can be felt throughout the film, especially in terms of the excellent pacing and effective drama. As Antlers gradually builds momentum, his horror expertise and dramatic flair enhance Cooper’s work throughout the disciplined 99-minute runtime. The slow-burn mechanics function on multiple levels and add depth to an already emotionally rich movie. First, they take the time to tackle the central theme of abuse and examine its impact on the characters as it pertains to the impending danger. The difficult subject matter is treated with a bleak color palette and ominously slow camera push-ins. Second, the steady worldbuilding generates anticipation for the inevitable chaos to come. When the screams (both on-screen and in the audience) do arrive, the prior buildup pays immense dividends as the frights feel that much more earned.
The unforgiving body horror is made even more disturbing by the superb score and excellent creature design. Javier Navarrete has crafted engaging music that fits Cooper’s sinister tone flawlessly. Deriving from Native American folklore, the grotesque monster in the spotlight is known as a Wendigo. The imposing entity uses its hulking frame to unleash havoc on the rural residents with gruesome results. It is shown sparingly in the first half, which works to the film’s benefit as it maximizes the intrigue before releasing the curtain at just the right moment. When the beast is finally unveiled in its entirety, it is absolutely worth the wait. The only significant weakness in this department, and really the movie in general, occurs in the climax. Some of the previously established parameters are ignored, and consequently, the final confrontation is a bit far-fetched, even for a film revolving around a supernatural monstrosity.
The talented cast is led by the underrated Keri Russell, who shines as the troubled and compassionate Julia Meadows. Jesse Plemons plays her brother, Paul, and turns in a strong performance as the well-intentioned lawman. Jeremy T. Thomas is exceptional in his portrayal of Lucas Weaver. This is undoubtedly a breakout performance for the young actor, and it will be interesting to see what roles his stellar work will lead to next.
A Deep Horror Flick
Scott Cooper surpasses the typical creature feature by digging deep into real-life trauma and exploring its connection to mythological terror. Wholly captivating at each step of the dread-filled descent, Antlers highlights the filmmaker’s versatility and raises the bar for the genre.