Synopsis: In an isolated Oregon town, a high school teacher and her police officer brother become convinced one of her students is harboring a deadly supernatural secret.
Stars: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan, Cody Davis
Director: Scott Cooper
Running Length: 99 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I have to admit that I’m still a little anxious when I get ready to head into a movie theater. I’m all vaxxed up, masked, and ready for the theatrical experience but my heart beats a little faster when it’s time to venture in. And I know what it’s like for others too who go through the same range of emotions after being used to watching their movies in the comfort of their own home for so long. There’s a period of adjustment that’s needed before we can all feel like its natural to just head to the movies at the drop of a hat (or a mask, maybe). The first few times I was back in the theater, I found it hard to relax and be comfortable but I’m getting there.
Understanding that is helpful at the start of my review for Antlers, especially when it comes right before I tell you that seeing this one in the theaters is well worth it. I’d been looking forward to this Guillermo del Toro-produced horror film for nearly two years by the time I finally saw it and I’m so glad that Searchlight Pictures held it back from a streaming release until now. That way, audiences can truly focus on the ambiance and environment created by director Scott Cooper and his crew, bringing viewers into an isolated community where a ancient legend lives and grows hungrier.
It probably helped that it was a dark and stormy afternoon that I saw the film because most of the movie takes place in a wet and rainy small town in Oregon which has suffered due to a local mining company closing and the opioid epidemic running rampant within the Northwestern communities. As the film opens, Lucas Weaver (Jeremy Thomas) is waiting for his dad Frank (Scott Haze, Venom) and a buddy to finish clearing out their makeshift meth lab set-up in an old mineshaft. The dark and dank locale is perfect for hiding their illegal operation and turns out, for an unseen creature to stalk them in the film’s first nerve jangling sequence of suspense.
Several weeks later, Lucas is in school but looks worse for wear but isn’t all that different from a number of the vacant eyed children that Julie Meadows (Keri Russell, Austenland) teaches. A former townie that left because of deep-rooted family trouble, she’s living in her childhood home with a police officer brother (Jesse Plemons, Game Night) and a lot of bad memories she’d just as soon forget. In line at the store, she glances at bottles of alcohol long enough for us to understand loud and clear that screenwriters C. Henry Chaisson and Nic Antosca (who wrote the original short story) want us to be sure to note that Julie has struggled with unhealthy coping mechanisms. Back at school, recognizing signs of abuse in the boy’s drawings and behavior, Lucas catches Julie’s eye and makes the boy her mission in rescuing him from what she thinks is mistreatment. She’ll learn it is far more dangerous. Not before a whole bunch of people die, though.
I wouldn’t dream of spoiling how the second act of Antlers develops, only to say that even if it does dip slightly into some overtly conventional territory, it never sways from being completely entertaining. Cooper (Out of the Furnace) excels at this type of small-town filmmaking and while the cast is made up of movie stars, they all seem to fit this Oregon lifestyle in unassuming ways. While Russell and Plemons might not be the first choice to play siblings, they work well with one another and thank heavens there are no fussy romantic entanglements for either to get involved with that would slow things down. Thomas is the star of the show, and the rest of the cast seems to understand that, allowing themselves to blend more into the background while he impresses front and center. It’s a bear of a role to ask a child to play but, as we’ll come to see in several movies yet to release in 2021, the kids are coming to take over Hollywood.
It’s not easy to be consistent with a mood for any length of time, especially in horror films, but there’s this sense of dread that hangs over Antlers from the start that never lets up. Beginning with the opening lines taken from the words of an indigenous First Nations myth to the tingly epilogue, Cooper might not wrangle every idea introduced down to be completely explained by the finale, but he at least makes the film interesting throughout. You want a return on your investment of time and travel for going to the movies and you don’t always get it…Antlers sends you home fully vested.