Starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons
Scott’s Review #1,255
Reviewed May 13, 2022
Antlers (2021) is a film co-produced by Guillermo del Toro who is famous for dark, humanistic treasures like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water (2017).
His name attached to the project conjures images of supernatural and otherworldly creations and some murky elements. While the film does contain his influence if looked at carefully it’s in a tepid way and I wouldn’t call it a del Toro type film.
But, it’s not as if he directed it either, he only helped fund it. Scott Cooper, known for Crazy Heart (2009) and Black Mass (2015), two very good films, does a fantastic job of adding horror elements and impressive cinematography that create a bleak and grey atmosphere that is perfect for horror.
The plot is the weak point in an otherwise exceptional offering. The story has a standard setup and unsatisfying ending save for an attempt to push the wheels in motion for a potential sequel.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Antler’s release date was postponed twice and flew under the radar as many films did in the early 2020s.
Plus, star Jesse Plemons received an Oscar nomination for The Power of the Dog (2021) by the time the film hit the screens so it’s doubtful he’d make a return appearance.
I’m not sure the film is good enough to warrant a follow-up but I did thoroughly enjoy the perfect trimmings and quality acting even though the story didn’t completely satisfy me.
The film is based on the short story The Quiet Boy by Nick Antosca.
The action is set in a rural, isolated Oregon town where a middle-school teacher (Keri Russell) and her sheriff brother (Plemons) become entangled with her taciturn student Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) whose dark family secrets lead to terrifying encounters with a legendary ancestral creature known for creating debauchery.
The dazzling cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister perfectly encapsulates the setting of the Pacific Northwest making it appear grim and constantly cloudy. The foreboding presence is only helped by adding a dark mine as the main set where the dire events occur.
Russell does a fine job with carrying the film and Cooper and the team provides a character-driven approach to the story. Julia has returned to her hometown after the suicide of her father, who we quickly learn was abusing her as a little girl.
She bonds with Lucas who is also abused and this portion of the story works well. We get the bond and they connect well. He’s got a different set of daddy issues though since his wolf-like papa salivates at the sight of him and is diseased from an incident in the mine.
But, the Julia/Lucas relationship ultimately has very little to do with a wild creature running around killing a student and a principal. A quick scene involving a local townsperson explaining an ancient curse is uninspired even if he is played by Graham Greene from Dances With Wolves fame (1990).
I was more invested in the Julia and Paul raising Lucas angle and what comes next over the silly folklore curse that we’ve seen countless times in films.
The texture of Antlers easily awards it a solid B+ rating because it’s spooky and scary in some sequences. When Julia and Principal Ellen (Amy Madigan) separately approach the run-down Weaver house the camera follows the characters making the audience feel like they are the ones entering the house.
We know bad things will soon happen and that makes it fun.
Because of the great camera work and use of lighting, I’d never want to set foot in Cispus Falls.
As an aside for every film writer out there, it’s time to discard the anti-LGBTQ slurs once and for all. Aren’t we beyond this? Can’t we write one character calling another a ‘loser’ and leave it at that?
The visceral style of Antlers (2021) is more than enough reason to recommend it. A straight-ahead supernatural horror film with a grim veneer is the reason to see it. The ho-hum story is rather secondary.