31 Days of Hallowe’en 2022, Day 4: Antlers [2021]

There are two halves of a decent film here, but the cracks in quality are too papered over by studio-y sheen to make this more than the sum of its parts.

In Antlers, directed by Scott Cooper, Keri Russell stars as Julia, a schoolteacher who returns to her family home to live with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons) after their father’s suicide. One of her students, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) appears withdrawn and looks severely malnourished, but Julia soon fears that her concern for his wellbeing seems intertwined with a recent spate of genuinely horrific murders in their rural Oregonian town.

This is a perfect set-up for the dark fable/fairytale that Julia outright refers to in one of her classes (this film isn’t subtle, neither in its exposition nor its clunky allegory for a subject as serious as child abuse), yet it goes nowhere beyond mining First Nations folklore for the oft-used wendigo figure and then having the only First Nations actor dump some info and then fuck off. Aren’t we…past this kind of caucacity? It all feels very ’90s popcorn horror, and not in the fun way.

But there are elements that work: The quiet moments such as the long shots and grim colouring of a seemingly peaceful rural setting (but that typically has a drug problem), or bits of character work such as Lucas casually approaching large vermin animals, walking alone on train tracks or basically “meh”-ing his school bullies (why would he be afraid of anything when home is the scariest thing of all?). But the film does little with these strings and doesn’t really try to tie them together with parallels or any other kind of cohesive device.

Plemons puts in an admirably restrained performance as Paul and newcomer Thomas is compelling as poor Lucas, but Russell feels miscast as Julia. She’s not bad; she just stands out. I might as well throw in there that the make-up choices for her character felt odd – I don’t think she’d wear Mena-Suvari-in-Loser-levels of black eyeliner?

I wanted to love this. The body horror and visual effects are outstanding, even if the film’s enragingly low lighting masks much of this. There is one very good jump scare. But the biggest letdown is the story: too many characters making absurdly stupid and bizarre decisions, including wandering around alone or bringing your civilian sister along to crime scenes. Every beat until the very end felt contrived, and when the final fight did come it was underwhelming, murky and anticlimactic. The history and rich meaning of the folklore shallowly plundered for this film deserves a far better tale.

Score: 🎃🎃

Leave a Reply...if you dare.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s