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!