“What is a neglected child? He is a child not planned for, not wanted. Neglect begins, therefore, before he is born.” – Pearl S. Buck
If you looked up Scott Cooper on IMDb you would see a filmography of dramatic films. No horror to speak of. But if you’ve seen his films you’ll know that when Cooper approaches the subject of violence his unabashed perspective is very horror-like as it is graphic and upfront. He sticks with it, even when it can feel like too much he stays. He’s there to send a message and violence is often his paintbrush. He reminds me of Jeremy Saulnier in that regard. A comparison I consider to be a great compliment.
With the guidance of horror auteur Guillermo del Toro, Cooper directs a gorgeous but incredibly moody domestic horror/drama hybrid. Antlers is not in a hurry to divulge all of its secrets as it lays groundwork for multiple encounters that are nothing short of grotesquely horrifying. It eludes to, it creates scenarios and explores them to great extent. Often these explorations lead the characters into moments they likely won’t return from.
From a practical sense, Antlers features drearily beautiful cinematography from Florian Hoffmeister. The gloomy look of rural Oregon entangles the characters in an environment that in so many ways matches their own emotions and feelings about current events plaguing their small town. There is a mystery and no one wants to face it. With past transgressions sticking to these people like glue, their inaction is due to a fear of recreating that which they have desperately tried to leave behind. What the adults of this tale realize eventually is that in order to protect the future of their town, a.k.a the children, they must prevent the repetitive nature of abuse and their abusers.
They must face the monstrous nature of man as they take on a very real legend that in the lives of Native Americans has existed and rampaged for eons. In a reality of logic and logical conclusion, the world of impossible occurrences is about to clash with that so-called reality in a melee of bloody retribution. The spirits are restless, angry and they are ready to let us hear and most certainly feel it.
I think a definite benefit to having such established people behind the camera is the caliber of talent that can attract in front of the camera. Antlers is replete with talent from the leads, Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons to newcomer, the young but splendidly vacant and remorseful, Jeremy T. Thomas who really carries this story with the confidence of the seasoned actors at his side three or four times his age. In one role he must convey strength but at the cost of his own sanity. He must showcase fragility as his dire situation becomes something ripped from the depths of a hellish nightmare only the devil could conjure. Despite some of his questionable choices you feel for him. It’s clear from the beginning that he is in need of help and that fact becomes more salient and urgent as time ticks away.
Keri Russell is the level headed teacher whose pains of the past have made her more susceptible to others’ pain as she sees this young boy in her class frail and only getting worse. As facts and myth begin to meld she is the one that realizes no matter how bad things are about to get, this boy, this desperate little human needs help now. Jesse Plemons is the skeptical sheriff who acts but does so with lead in his shoes. He is slow to react simply because what he must face is so outlandish he becomes convinced there must be another truth however obvious the reality may be. Plemons is nothing outstanding here but even his most middle-of-the-road performances are entertaining and believable. He is exactly what he needs to be for the others to truly shine.
For much of the movie the monster of mystery remains in the shadows. In the rare moments when it’s revealed it dares you to refrain from looking away. It transforms from a humanoid in despair to a mythical being so horrific and deformed it can only elicit feelings of doom and defeat. It is a walking horror meant only to destroy and feed, never to be satiated, always destined to roam and murder. I can only assume but I do so confidently that del Toro’s influence is all over the creation of the monster. His visuals throughout his library of oddities are legendary and this particular creature is like a car wreck, horrible but somehow morbidly enticing. You want to look away but that proves difficult. Curiosity is a two-sided coin after all. If one side is that of good and pure then the other side invariably must be the polar opposite. Antlers is a feature of the polar opposite.
Antlers is in many ways a typical monster movie. It has moments of horrible violence and gore. The setting is sad and its inhabitants are equally macabre. But where it stands out are in the moments when one person reaches out to check on someone else clearly in distress. It’s about the looked passed, the invisible, the pushed aside, the forgotten finally screaming out for help. The question becomes who will answer that call? May they do so with the utmost caution. Antlers is a dramatic telling of a horror story and guides along with a dreary, moody kind of bravado. It can be simple in nature but with everyone involved at the top of their respective games, Antlers is clearly in good hands and demonstrates that fact on a regular basis.
Rated R For: violence including gruesome images, and for language
Runtime: 99 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Horror, Drama, Mystery
Starring: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Scott Haze
Directed By: Scott Cooper
Out of 10 Nerdskulls
Story: 8.5/ Acting: 8.5/ Directing: 8/ Visuals: 9
OVERALL: 8.5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes.
Check out the trailer below:
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