At first glance, Antlers (2021) may appear to be just another standard monster movie but scratch below the surface and you’ll find a dark complexity that is rare in modern horror. Set in a small, impoverished town in Oregon (but filmed in British Columbia, Canada), the film begins with a man and his young son being attacked by a mysterious being in his meth lab inside an abandoned mine. They survive the attack but when they return home, neither are quite the same. The man’s other son Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) is forced to look after them as they are gradually overtaken by a malevolent spirit and slowly transform into vicious, flesh-craving creatures.
Lucas does his best to look after his brother and father, feeding them the fresh meat of wild animals to satisfy their insatiable appetites while keeping them locked up in a room of their bleak house. He tries to hide what is going on at home from his teacher, Julia (played by Keri Russell) who due to her own past trauma, senses that something is amiss with Lucas and is determined to figure out what is going on.
After the possessed father escapes from the house, the townspeople begin suffering grisly deaths as they become part of the menu. Julia tries to convince her brother and town Sheriff (Jesse Plemons), that something is not right in the boy’s home.and they begin to piece together a connection between the bodies piling and young Lucas’ family situation. They consult with a local authority on Indigenous folklore (Graham Greene) who believes that a Wendigo, a malevolent spirit that turns humans into violent cannibals, is to blame. At first the two are disbelieving of this possibility but as they investigate further they come to realize that there may indeed be a supernatural force behind the killings in their town.
While Antlers does have a few gory scenes, it’s the dark atmosphere and slow-building suspense that truly defines this film. For most of the film, the killer’s appearance is not clearly shown, leaving your imagination to fill in the blanks as to what the monster looks like. Only near the conclusion of the film does the Wendigo emerge from its human host and make it apparent how the film got its name.
My favourite aspects of Antlers are its characters and setting, both equally sombre and dark, creating a continual sense of foreboding as the film slowly builds to its climax. I was particularly impressed by the performance of Jeremy T. Thomas as Lucas. His portrayal of a stoic young boy trying to keep his family together despite all the socioeconomic and demonic hardships they face was very uncharacteristically touching in a horror film. In one particularly heart-wrenching scene, he tells a story he wrote to his class about a family of bears who became sick, angry and hungry but took solace in the fact they still had each other – a thinly veiled description of his current life a home.
Keri Russell also delivers a strong performance as Julia, an emotionally fragile teacher who tries to protect her student from a demon while battling with her own inner demons from the past. One of my only complaints about Antlers was that despite the strong development of characters and resulting empathy, the backstory about the abuse Julia suffered at the hands of her father seemed somewhat disconnected to the rest of the plot.
Antlers was directed by Scott Cooper who is probably best known for his critically acclaimed 2010 film Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges. This was Cooper’s first foray into the horror genre and he does a commendable job of combining complex characters, folklore and modern social issues into a unique twist on the traditional creature feature. Guillermo del Toro served as Producer and flashes of his trademark style comes through in the film, particularly the closing scenes where Julia fights the mythical Wendigo in an epic battle of good vs. evil.
A unique modern day monster movie, Antlers is worth a watch.The film is currently available to stream on demand through streaming services including Apple TV, Amazon and DIRECTV.
This post is my contribution to The Odd or Even Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room and Realweedgiemidget Reviews. Be sure to check out the other maniacal monster’s contribution here. Thanks to both Rebecca and Gill for including Maniacs and Monsters!
Just watched this one recently after learning about the Del Toro connection, I am now a big fan of his films after seeing Crimson Peak .- thanks to the endorsement from your site. Thanks for joining the blogathon and bringing this insightful post to the blogathon.
Thanks for hosting another unique blogathon, always a pleasure to participate!
Always a pleasure to have you two, just know that you are more than welcome to join any of my blogathons!
Great review, Andrew! I’m going to check this movie out. I’m a big fan of Jesse Plemons from his Friday Night Lights and Fargo performances. Thanks again for the great review.
Thanks Kevin! I forgot he was in Friday Night Lights. He was also great in The Power of the Dog which just one won best picture at the Golden Globes.
I’ve seen the trailers for this and it looks intriguing. The Wendigo pops up in movies from time to time, and each conception is intriguingly different. It’s good that the filmmakers decided to build the suspense up gradually and keep the monster to the shadows for much of the movie to let the viewer’s imagination do its thing. There’s hope for contemporary horror after all!
Thanks for reading my review Brian. Yes, modern horror could use more films like this, suspense seems to be a forgotten art these days.
I might have to try this one–it would be interesting to see Keri Russell in a horror movie. Good to know there’s not too much gore in it. Thanks again for joining the blogathon! It’s always a pleasure.
I’ve been on the fence about this movie but now I think I need to see it.
Thanks John! It’s definitely worth checking out.