Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Director Scott Cooper teams-up with Producer Guillermo del Toro to make a strong entry to the Monster genre.
Julia (Keri Russell) returns to her small Oregon town moving into her childhood home with her brother, local sheriff Paul (Jesse Plemons). While teaching at the local school she notices young student Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) is showing signs of abuse. As a prior child of abuse herself, she watches out for Lucas. However, she soon finds out that Lucas has more family secrets. He keeps these locked inside his attic where screeches and grunts are heard. And these secrets will have terrifying consequences for the whole town.
Scott makes an eerie atmosphere that creates suspense and tension throughout. Mist and clouds engulf the small-town and its inhabitants. There are vast landscapes of mountains, forests and empty train tracks. And then there’s Lucas. After school, he takes long walks home to hunt. These searches end with unsettling visuals of bloody animals. He comes home to an empty home with the attic door triple-locked. Strange noises are heard from behind. When silence falls, Lucas enters feeding what’s inside the dead animals.
Once we are shown what’s in the attic, the Film kicks into high gear. The disturbing, and heartbreaking, realization leads us to a gruesome scene giving birth to the monster. Additionally, the scenes in the attic show Scott Haze’s physically-demanding performance that he revels in. Scene after scene we are given gradual peaks at the monster until the climax where the full extent is thrown at us. Antlers’ monster is the mythological creature, or evil spirit, the Wendigo from First Nation folklore. The Special and Visual Effects team have their work cut out for them and create an outstanding, horrific-looking creature.
At the core of Antlers is a story of child abuse. Screenwriters Nick Antosca (who’s adapting his short story “The Quiet Boy”), Cooper and Henry Chaisson show only the essential past of Julia. Allowing audiences to understand her necessity to help Lucas. Russell is superb in showing Julia’s desire to save Lucas from a childhood she once lived. Additionally, she shows the trauma the memories of the past continue to inflict. The Screenwriters also examine the bystanders to abuse and how they become culpable. Principal Ellen Booth (Amy Madigan) and Paul make excuses for Lucas’ father Frank (Haze). And they go a step further making excuses for why they haven’t acted. In displaying this, the Screenwriters show how abuse can continue even when it’s known.
For how much talent is on screen it’s newcomer Thomas that stands out. Lucas is a young boy who’s dealing with adult responsibilities and supernatural experiences. It’s a difficult role, yet, Thomas excels at every turn. He commands his character showing his fear, anger, anguish, desire and also his grasps of hope. Thomas and Russell work great together. Russell’s caring Julia is constantly being met with Thomas’ untrusting, questioning Lucas.
Overall, Antlers gives us a creepy monster, unsettling atmosphere and scares rooted in tension and the Wendigo’s violent acts. At times the dialogue can become a little too on the nose but it makes up for it with a well-crafted story and deep themes on abuse, childhood and family.
Searchlight Pictures release ANTLERS on Friday, October 29, 2021.