Now on VOD, Antlers went right ahead and titled itself after the things that have been a trend in horror movies for the past decade or so, the things that signify occultic folk horror and are often found in seeping caves or dim wooded paths or rooms that smell really bad, sometimes next to bundles of evil twigs, and remember, you should ALWAYS HEED the evil twigs, even more so if they’re painstakingly arranged alongside haunted antlers. Notably, the film finds director Scott Cooper delving into supernatural scary stuff, merging his increasingly singular brand of working-class-America glumness (see: Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) with a good old-fashioned creature feature. Is it me, or is that a tonal match made in heaven?
ANTLERS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: SOME ON-SCREEN TEXT: I’ll boil it down to simply this: Mother Earth is P.O.’d, and the vibe here is, we’re gonna witness a little bit of her revenge. Then we see a boy, Aiden (Sawyer Jones), wandering the grounds outside an abandoned mine. Structures crumble. Train tracks stretch, empty. And the bleak frosting on the depression cake is, this is Movie Rural Oregon, perpetually drizzled upon, beautiful in its rich, damp browns and greens, distinctively miserable. Aiden’s grubby dad, Frank (Scott Haze), thinks the boy is sitting chill in the truck so he can chef up some meth down in the mine. But the whole scenario goes sideways when Frank and his drug buddy hear a noise, then another noise, then are attacked in the dark, by something that sounds like more than a puma but less than a velociraptor. Made curious by the chomping and slashing sounds, Aiden walks slowly into the pitch-blackness of the mine entrance and the movie title fades in, and happy days are here again!
Subtitle over ominous establishing shots of a mountainside mining town, mist-caked and cloaked in dispiritedness: THREE WEEKS LATER. Julia (Keri Russell), or Miss Meadows if she’s your teacher, talks at a middle-school class about storytelling, myths and legends. One skinny, haunted-looking kid, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), slumps at his desk. The bully kid taunts him, but it seems unwise, because Lucas seems like the type who’d fight back with psychological warfare; I mean, he’s the type of Disturbed Movie Kid who makes Very Creepy Drawings in school. Julia stands at the convenience-store counter and the camera lingers on the liquor shelf, but she doesn’t buy any – one day at a time, one moment at a time. She’s back in her hometown after an unspecified duration, new in this teaching job, living in her childhood home with her brother, Paul (Jesse Plemons), who’s the sheriff with the Twilight Dad Pacific Northwest Cop-Dad Stache. She keeps tidying things to her specifications, which means Paul can’t find his things, like his medication. She’s just trying to optimize the space, she says. She intends to find her own place soon, she says.
At this point, I’ll temper my impertinence, because this is a monster movie that addresses trauma and abuse in a serious manner. Julia’s tense and jumpy, and we see blurry flashes of Julia’s past, triggered by a piano and other things in the house. (Paul is sensitive to it – he offers to get rid of the piano, but she says that isn’t necessary.) We see Lucas as he wanders home from school, stopping to set animal snares or eye a skunk that might be on the receiving end of the big rock in his hand. He goes home and stares at a heavily locked door, behind which something lurks. A man, maybe. A man with red eyes that we see through the keyhole. A man who sounds like a rabid wolf, or like he’s gone full Gollum. Julia expresses concern for Lucas, follows him on his path home, buys him ice cream, tries to crack his shell, is rebutted, is told, “don’t follow me this time.” Not much time passes before Sheriff Paul has to do something about a dead body, then another, and another. He’s shocked, and so is Julia, and surely the rest of the town, too. But we’re not, and maybe Lucas isn’t either.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Antlers is Cooper’s Out of the Furnace if it was populated with the Alien or Pumpkinhead and cribbed a vibe or two from a Stephen King adaptation (Silver Bullet comes to mind, maybe).
Performance Worth Watching: Keri Russell might see her fan club membership tick upwards a notch or three after people watch her gut it out through the incredibly hairy climax of this movie. You’ll wish she had more than just a handful of minor-key notes to play, but it’s rather satisfying to watch her stare the beast in the eye and aim a pointy thing at its heart.
Memorable Dialogue: Paul just inspected a chewed-up half-corpse found in the nearby woods:
Paul: It was probably a bear or cougar – something.
Paul: From what he just told me, I don’t think Jesus was anywhere to be found.
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: Jesus? In soggy, overcast Oregon? 404 ERROR FILE NOT FOUND. This is a godforsaken place with a stifling air of economic and psychic gloom and hardship. So Cooper is smack in his comfort zone, and very much like his other films, Antlers is miserable shit, but thoroughly watchable and absorbing miserable shit, a key distinction we need to make. The filmmaker’s propensity for brooding character studies means Antlers’ seed finds a little more purchase than the typical horror outing. At the same time, he pretty much revels in the opportunity to linger over splattered viscera, invoking the first time you saw a dead animal by the side of the road and couldn’t tear your eyes away from the gore, couldn’t pry the feelings of disgust and sorrow from your mind, struggled to shake the sense that this can be such a cold, relentless world.
So the film can be effective in prying beneath the surface of what-lurks-in-the-woods fears. It also indulges its share of genre cliches: Oppressive atmosphere, the creepier fringes of Native American folklore, the Creepy Little Kid archetype, some crackity-bones (crackity crackity bones bones bones!) body-horror sound effects. And despite Cooper’s furrowed-brow concern for the well-being of his troubled characters, and his utilization of the creature as a symbol for greater things – the cyclical nature of abuse is the big one – Julia’s catharsis feels slightly shallow, simple, perfunctory. But he gets just deep enough to evoke a primal disturbance of the mind or two, to leave us wondering if and how people can ever heal from the things that were done to them when they were vulnerable children.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Unlike many of its horror contemporaries, Antlers justifies creating such a woebegone atmosphere.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.
The post Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Antlers’ on VOD, in Which Keri Russell Finds Herself in a Gory Folk-Horror Tale appeared first on Decider.