REVIEW: Antlers (2021)

antlers_posterI am a sucker for creature features: throw a hideous bloodthirsty monster into a narrative and it’s likely that on one level or another I am going to find entertainment value. Add in some quality production values, a half-decent script, and good actors, and I am going to be a pretty happy viewer.

Antlers is a 2021 supernatural horror film directed by Scott Cooper and produced by Guillermo Del Toro. It gathered an unexpected amount of hype prior to its theatrical release, I suspect mainly on the back of Del Toro and Cooper’s respective reputations. After the now-standard series of lengthy COVID-related delays it simply failed to grab a mass audience. It is now available on Disney+ and home video, and hopefully will develop a following there.

In an underground Oregon meth lab, some unseen supernatural force attacks two drug cooks. Later on, the son of one of the men attracts the attention of school teacher Julia Meadows (Keri Russell). Concerned for his welfare, she follows him home to find him guarding something unspeakable in his house. Meanwhile Julia’s partially estranged brother, Sheriff Paul Meadows (Jesse Plemons), has discovered half of a mutilated human body in the woods.

There is so much to Antlers that feels right. It exploits its backwoods setting superbly, and delivers a particularly morose and bleak set of characters. Their motivations and back stories are easy to follow, but drawn out gradually. The cast are strong, particularly Plemons as the somewhat withdrawn Paul, and screen legend Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves) as the former sheriff, now retired, who recognises the true nature of what’s hiding in the house with young Lucas (an excellent Jeremy T. Thomas).

The monster at the story’s centre is beautifully realised, and atmospherically shot. This is a fine looking horror film, thanks to cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister and editor Dylan Tichenor. Accept the film for what it is and how it is presented, and it is an enjoyable – if disposable – piece of gory entertainment.

To be honest, things only stumble if one begins to think of what sort of film was left on the table compared to the one that was released. The set-up to Antlers is rich with thematic potential: indigenous America, environmental issues, economic woes, and multiple trajectories through which its fantastical horrors could come to reflect real-world concerns. There was another quite similar horror picture released this year; the low-budget indigenous Canadian work Don’t Say Its Name directed by Rueben Martell. Where Antlers definitely winds out on glossy production values and effective horror, it’s Don’t Say Its Name that wins out for themes, allegory, and relevance. It is worth tracking down and trying out both films to see how they each treat such similar subject matter.

Measure your expectations, and Antlers will provide a solid monster movie with just a little more depth than your run-of-the-mill film of this kind. Demand too much from it, and it cannot help but disappoint.

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