I’ve always been fascinated with the North American folk monsters, and there are surprisingly a large number of them spread out across most of the US. Many are familiar with some of the more popular ones, whether it’s Big Foot, the Moth Man, the Chupacabra, or even more recently in the news Slender man. All of which have had some sort of movie or television series written about them. For those who call the pacific northwest home, a more familiar monster is said to roam the area known as the Wendigo. Referring to handy Wikipedia, the Wendigo is described as simply a “giant humanoid with a heart of ice; foul stench or sudden, unreasonable chill might precede it’s approach”. Although its description oftentimes appears as a human/hybrid beast with antlers.
Antlers by renowned producer Guillermo Del Toro and directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart/Black Mass) provide their own unique perspective on this North American myth. In a small mining town in Oregon, the remaining town folk tries to eek out whatever living they can. The town has seen massive job loss, and clearly is hanging on by a thread. Drug abuse, homelessness, and unemployment are rampant, and the overcast skies are clearly not the only thing bringing darkness. Keri Russell portrays Julia Meadows, a teacher who has returned to her childhood home to live with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons). Her brother has recently taken the position of town Sherriff who spends the bulk of his time evicting residents and chasing down drug abusers. The small town is rocked by several grisly murders that all seem to somehow be linked to a young boy named Lucas (Jeremy T Thomas).
Julia takes an interest in the shy boy, who one day shares his terrifying tale with the class as part of a writing assignment. The tale he weaves begins to take shape in the town, and the graphic portrayal in pictures the young boy is drawing frightens all who gaze upon them. It’s up to the small-town teacher and her brother the sheriff to piece together the clues and solve the murders before it engulfs the entire town.
The atmospheric setting in Antlers is almost as pervasive as the monster that hunts the town folks. The sense of sadness and loss is apparent in every shot. The desperation of those just trying to survive their circumstances, the run-down buildings, the boarded-up shops. Even the gorgeous forests and lakes take on a sense of depression and melancholy. As an audience member, I could feel the weight of despair throughout which I feel sets a perfect tone for everything that unfolds. The town is symbolic of a monster itself, slowly devouring the souls of all those who remain, and at times throughout will almost feel more frightening than the beast itself.
Keri Russell brings her usual stellar acting to the film, believably portraying a woman who is not only fighting a current demon but her own demons as well. Jesse Plemons also brings a riveting performance as both the sheriff and her brother, both jobs that he feels uneasy and uncertain on how to respond. It’s Jeremy T Thomas however who steals the show. For such a young star, his portrayal of Lucas is not only believable but frighteningly realistic. It’s easy to forget that he is an actor and that these are things that are not happening to him in real life. It’s a credit to the casting of the movie, that none of the characters feel forced, or cliché’. It’s certainly a film that benefits from its consistency in characters that it delivers incredibly well.
As a suspense/horror movie there is just the right amount of jump scares to keep you awake, and yet not so much that it feels overdone. Much of the movie takes a slower, more deliberate pace. Increasing the tension with every minute yet taking the time to craft an interesting story in the process. This is definitely not a roller coaster ride, as it’s a slow build, with a giant drop at the end. It will keep you feeling uneasy throughout, and even if you think you know where it’s going, it’ll surprise you at least once or twice. Guillermo Del Toro definitely continues his mastery of unusual and suspenseful movies with this film for sure.
Antlers isn’t the perfect film however, it isn’t fast-paced, and much of the horror encountered is around the town itself, and less about the monster. If you are looking for a film that will keep you gripping your armrests (or the one beside you), this likely won’t be the movie for you. In order to truly enjoy it, you have to let yourself get lost in the environment, and it’ll likely strike a chord with some and come across to slow for others. Whether you will truly enjoy it depends on what expectations you are going in with. It’s as much a story about the people as it is about the monster, although those people are portrayed incredibly well. Still, I think it’s a perfect time to release, right before Halloween, in the middle of Autumn and that alone makes it worth the price of admission.
4 out of 5 stars