Antlers (Movie Review)

Antlers (Movie Review)

One of the more anticipated Horror films of 2021 has to be the Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart 2009, Hostiles 2017) directed and Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy 2004, Pan’s Labyrinth 2006) produced Antlers. Having an unfortunate original release date of April 2020, it was one of many films affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and delayed twice. Finally arriving in theaters on October 29th through Searchlight Pictures, does Antlers live up to all the hype?

ANTLERS. Photo by Kimberley French. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

It starts off with a man, Frank (Scott Haze: Child of God 2013, Venom 2018), who manufactures methamphetamine in an old abandoned mine with a partner. One day, as his young son Aiden waits outside in his truck, He is attacked by an unseen creature, as are his partner and Aiden when he goes to investigate. They are not killed, but killing was not the intent. It falls to Frank’s older son, Lucas, (Jeremy T. Thomas), older than Aiden but still a child, to ensure his father and brother are taken care of as their condition quickly worsens. 

Lucas’s teacher, Julia (Keri Russell: Dark Skies 2013, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 2019) takes notice of his aloof behavior and withdrawal from his classmates, and especially his talented but disturbing drawings. She suspects abuse before long, but she’s wrong and things are worse than she could have imagined. That’s because the monster in Antlers is a wendigo, a popular monster to adapt, but unfortunately often by less than stellar films found in bargain bins.

However, Antlers takes a somewhat different approach to the monster than normal and is arguably the best portrayal of a wendigo yet. The wendigo isn’t a traditional monster per se, but a curse that turns anyone afflicted into a mindless, endlessly ravenous beast. Frank is particularly affected, being extremely violent and nothing more than a creature driven only by hunger. Aiden is less affected and retains much of his human mind for now. Lucas does his best to keep them fed and locked away, but it’s all too much for one boy to contain alone.

ANTLERS. Photo by Kimberley French. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

These aforementioned parts are the best things about the film. The core characters are likable, Aiden’s struggles at home and school are tense, and the wendigo is legitimately scary, and gets scarier the longer the film goes on. The problem is that the story touches on too many themes and has too many characters to possibly finish without some rough edges. Julia has a traumatic past that has permeated every part of her life, and there is past tension with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons: Breaking Bad series, The Irishman 2019), who is the town sheriff, because of it. This conflict is not necessary or even healthy for the plot, and ultimately feels like extra baggage.

The conflicts can be seen as adjacent to abuse, abandonment, PTSD, and addiction just to name some. It’s as if the story has something to say about all of those things but it’s an impossible task to reconcile them all to any kind of satisfaction. This is an example of a script that is a little too deep and complex for its own good. 

It is an overall dark film, and not just in terms of story and characters. The cinematography is awash in a gloomy haze that makes the entire film feel like an endlessly overcast day. It sets the tone perfectly and Cooper shows only what is necessary, never giving away too much. Things change quickly in this story, and he does a good job of keeping the viewer feeling unsafe while always being a step behind the changes. The performances are good, Russell and Plemons always are, but the characters feel derivative or even useless in some cases. The script is missing something needed to really have them connect with the audience. Special mention to Thomas, who makes Lucas interesting and genuinely ‘off’ compared to those around him. Good performance, especially for a kid. 

ANTLERS. Photo by Kimberley French. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Overall, Antlers is a rich plot that lives up to expectations in many ways, but also falls a bit short in trying to become as cohesive as it wants. The story is sad, the characters sadder, and the various sad themes weigh too much to give the story proper buoyancy. Although, Horror fans will find plenty to enjoy whether it be violence or atmosphere, and the monster concepts and effects are excellent. It’s too bad the script didn’t go through another draft before filming, because this film could have been better than it is. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Antlers 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Searchlight Pictures

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Roger Maléspin
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Roger is a Writer and Editor born and raised in New York City. A lifelong bibliophile, he spends most of his time delving into stories or honing his craft. When not flexing the pen, he can be found in any number of bars and coffee shops around New York, drawing inspiration from the kaleidoscope of stories and experiences that make up the greatest city in the world. His love of the written word is nearly matched by his affinity for Horror movies, and he can quote from the classics up to today's films. Holding strong convictions rooted deep in the religion of Metal, do not be surprised if you run into him, literally, in a circle pit during a Metal show somewhere in the city.

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