Antlers Drama

Review: ‘Antlers’ is a Gory and Atmospheric Creature Feature About the Monster Within

October 29, 2021Ben MK

Whether it's books or movies, humanity has always been driven by the desire to not only tell stories, but to pass on those stories from generation to generation. But while there's certainly something to be said for those iconic films and bestselling novels that seem to stand the test of time, when it comes to those stories that stay with us as a people, nothing can compare to the power of myths. With their ability to shape our beliefs and our culture, myths have the power to transcend mediums, allowing them to take on a life of their own. And in director Scott Cooper's Antlers, myths also have the power to kill, as the residents of the town of Cispus Falls discover firsthand.

A small rural community situated amongst the vast Oregon wilderness, Cispus was once a mining town. Lately, though, its authorities have been dealing with the deadly effects of rampant methamphetamine and opioid abuse, a crisis which has spread across the nation and landed at their doorsteps. Unfortunately, drug abuse isn't the only kind of abuse that has befallen some of the residents of this isolated municipality. And as a victim of sexual abuse herself, middle-school teacher Julia Meadows (Keri Russell) knows all too well the toll that the trauma can take. After recently returning from California, Julia now finds herself rooming with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), who also happens to be Cispus' Sheriff. However, when she's compelled to help one of her students — a 12-year-old boy named Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), whose disturbing drawings seem to suggest an abusive home situation — Julia ends up putting herself in the path of a malevolent and ancient entity.

Known as the Wendigo to the area's Indigenous population, this supernatural beast doesn't discriminate against men or women, or the old and the young. Awakened by the widespread deforestation of the Pacific Northwest, it has come to Cispus seeking blood sacrifices to appease its insatiable appetite for human flesh. What it finds, however, are victims like Lucas' father Frank (Scott Haze) and younger brother Aiden (Sawyer Jones), whom it has infected, causing Lucas to have to keep them imprisoned in the attic of their home on the outskirts of town. And when the principal of Lucas' school (Amy Madigan) pays Lucas' family a visit to investigate Julia's suspicions, she unwittingly unleashes the Wendigo — a mistake that will be paid for with more bloodshed and more carnage, as the monster only grows hungrier and more powerful with every terrified soul it claims.

Produced by Guillermo del Toro and based on Nick Antosca's short story, The Quiet Boy, the result is a graphic and gory creature feature that revels in the sights of mutilated bodies and a demonic deer with a penchant for ripping its victims to shreds and wearing their faces as a mask. At its heart, though, Antlers isn't so much about the monster we can see, but rather the monster within. This is a story about evil in all its forms, from the vicious cycle of addiction and substance abuse to the heinous deeds committed by physical and emotional victimizers. Yet, when it comes to articulating anything truly insightful about its subject matter, the movie falls woefully short, painting its themes in the broadest of strokes, as opposed to delivering anything deeply thought-provoking.

That said, what Antlers lacks in genuine subtext it more than makes up for with atmosphere. As with Cooper's previous efforts (such as Hostiles and Out of the Furnace), this is a picture steeped in allegorical imagery, where the narrative's setting is as much a character as the actors on-screen. It all adds up to a film that proves gripping in the moment, but when you step back and examine what's under its skin, you'll find mostly blood and guts.

Antlers releases October 29th, 2021 from Searchlight Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for violence including gruesome images, and for language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 39 min.

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