Originally scheduled for an April 2020 release, supernatural horror Antlers has finally hit our screens 18 months later. With Guillermo Del Toro acting as producer and a trailer that looked quirky and, frankly, a little terrifying, expectations were high. And for once I wasn’t disappointed.
The film is set in a small town in Oregon where Frank Weaver (Scott Haze) is working with his friend in an abandoned mine, while his young son Aiden (Sawyer Jones) waits outside. The two men hear strange noises in the mine and on investigating, are attacked by an unseen creature. After searching for his missing father, Aiden too is also attacked.
Events then jump to three weeks later, to Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas) who has come to the attention of his teacher Julia Meadows (Keri Russell). Lucas is malnourished and obviously troubled, spending his time in class making frightening drawings. He walks home from school collecting roadkill, which he then offers as food to his father and brother who are locked up on the second floor of their house. Julia begins to suspect that Lucas is being abused and is impelled by her own childhood abuse to help him. She raises it with her sheriff brother Paul (Jesse Plemons) and school principal Ellen (Amy Madigan), who are initially dismissive, leaving Julia to investigate on her own.
Julia follows Lucas as he walks home from school and visits his rundown house, where she hears strange noises. In the meantime, the remains of Frank’s friend are found by retired sheriff Stokes (Graham Greene) in the woods, and Paul and his deputy Dan (Rory Cochrane) are called in to investigate. Meanwhile, Lucas is still feeding his brother and father with animal carcasses as their conditions deteriorate further. Eventually, Julia is able to persuade Ellen to pay a visit to Frank to check on Lucas’ welfare, where Ellen discovers the disturbing circumstances in the Weaver’s house and after unlocking the door holding Frank and Aiden, unleashes a horror onto the small town.
Straight off, you can see the influence of Guillermo Del Toro on this film. It is a delightfully gory, creature feature with some impressive physical effects and creature design. This is also a horror film that doesn’t feature an overreliance on predictable jump scares, focusing instead on having an overall haunting and pretty creepy atmosphere, and the few jump scares that have been included are very well done. The cinematography is beautiful and the overall look and tone of the film is bleak yet fitting and very unsettling.
Antlers isn’t just a horror either, as the topics of abuse and neglect also turn this into a psychological drama. The blending of the two genres works well, although it does turn this into a slow burner rather than an action and scare packed thrill ride. I also enjoyed how this linked in with Native American folklore and a supernatural tale that I actually had heard of. Admittedly I know it from the show Supernatural, but I feel like the prior knowledge may have increased my enjoyment of the story in general as I really appreciated a different tale on the story.
The film isn’t perfect though. It shies away from delving into the Native American background which, considering the runtime is only 100 minutes, is something that could easily have added more to the story without drawing things out. It also doesn’t elaborate on the backgrounds of some of the characters, notably Julia and Paul, and while there is enough here to get the essence of their history, I’d argue that this too could have been expanded on.
As a horror film, Antlers may not appeal to those who prefer over the top jump scares. However, if you prefer your horrors a little subtler and more unsettling, then Antlers is a wonderfully gory slow burner that is definitely worth a watch.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!