Antlers: Run-of-the-mill thrills in time for Halloween

Film review: Despite good intentions, this American horror story fails to ignite

Jeremy T Thomas and Keri Russell

Film Title: Antlers

Director: Scott Cooper

Starring: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 99 min

Fri, Oct 29, 2021, 05:00

   

Antlers, billed as a folk horror inspired by the Native American “wendigo” legend, wherein an evil spirit possesses people and transforms them into insatiable cannibals, has pedigree. It is directed by the versatile Scott Cooper, who previously presided over the starriest mob movie ever made (Black Mass) and the Oscar-nominated addiction drama Crazy Heart, and it was developed and produced by Guillermo del Toro.

Superficially, Antlers fits with the latter’s depictions of children coping with the nightmarish adult worlds of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. It’s glossy. It has neat practical effects. It’s expertly scored by Javier Navarrete. 

Superficially, we said.

Heartfelt performances from such terrific actors as Keri Russell and Scott Haze fail to turn this hotchpotch of competing themes into cohesive drama. It strives boldly and commendably. America’s opioid crisis, that continent’s industrial decay, childhood sexual abuse, alcoholism, environmentalism and poverty are shoehorned into an uninspired creature feature that manages one measly jump scare in 99 minutes. 

Newcomer Jeremy T Thomas is rather more impressive than the project around him. He plays Lucas, a pale, unassuming 12-year-old with a desk full of disturbing drawings, doodles that alarm and concern his teacher (Russell). She has lately returned to her childhood home in distressed, rural Oregon and to sobriety. Both Lucas and the house she shares with her police officer brother Paul (Jesse Plemons) reawaken old traumas from Julia’s childhood. But Lucas, as the audience already knows, has a more disturbing and supernatural family secret than Julia can imagine.

Antlers, based on Nick Antosca’s short story The Quiet Boy, which the author adapted with co-writer Henry C Chaissongry, is an ambitious tale that, sadly, and in spite of all the weight and names attached, coalesces into flat, generic cinema. 

Jesse Plemons and veteran indigenous star Graham Greene are criminally wasted. The screenplay telegraphs, signals and practically takes out billboard advertisements as it moves through its muddle of familial strife and monsters. There are telling reports on television. An opening sequence issues a dire warning about disrespecting nature. The ending leaves room for an unnecessary sequel. 

For all these flaws, it’s a more pleasing Halloween treat than Halloween Kills.