Scott Cooper’s Antlers has plenty going for it. It’s a creative idea with a confident sense of atmosphere, and some apparent affinity for body horrors like Kronenberg’s The Fly. It may be somewhat run-of-the-mill when everything gets added up, but there’s enough interesting themes and admirable craftsmanship on display to warrant a viewing for those compelled to seek it out.
Based on the short story The Quiet Boy by Nick Antocasa, the film begins with a chilling prologue. A man is seen running a shady underground operation – think Breaking Bad if it were set in an abandoned mine. This man and his colleagues are attacked by an unseen creature, which sounds a lot like an animal.
We then cut to schoolteacher Julia (Keri Russell), who has recently moved back to Oregon to stay with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), who also happens to be the town sheriff. She is concerned for the wellbeing of one of her students, the quiet Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), especially after he produces a creepy story and scarier drawings for one of his class assignments. Julia decides to investigate further, leading to a horrifying revelation that ties Lucas to the unseen creature from the prologue.
Transformations and the underlying terror of them seem to be a prevalent theme in Antlers. Watching the film, one could understandably be reminded of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Not only is the creature involved based highly on similar allegories, but even the surrounding environment and the muted, borderline autumnal, colour palette evoke overt commentaries on climate change and the dangerous transformations humanity is causing to the earth for the sake of profit. It’s even implied that this directly caused the emergence of the central supernatural creature at the heart of the story, perhaps a suggestion that if humanity tampers with nature then nature will inevitably strike back.
Antlers boasts some impressive production quality which adds to its suspense. Among the film’s delights include a playful approach to dark and foggy lighting that adds to the film’s sense of entrapment. Meanwhile the slow piano that permeates Javier Navarrete’s score creates the feeling of something sneaking within the shadows, regardless of whether it is locked up or not. Even small details within the costume design – the work of Karin Nosella – reveal subtle details about the characters occupying the film, many of whom are united by another thematic principle of the film on cycles of abuse and how that can also result in terrifying transformations.
Cooper has always had a knack for getting the best out of his actors, the case and point being Jeff Bridges’ Oscar-winning turn in Crazy Heart. Cooper showcases this yet again, with Russell delivering a solid lead performance that oozes fright, empathy, and a quiet strength underneath. Other standouts include Jesse Plemons, who practically sinks into every film he partakes in with his natural abilities, and newcomer Jeremy T. Thomas. Thomas’s casting is pretty spot on given the timid nature of his character, but his ability to juggle the weight of responsibility and burden with a deeply rooted fear is very impressive for someone his age. It’ll be exciting to see what’s next for his career.
These are all admirable qualities to Antlers that give it plenty of merit. It’s just a pity that, when everything is added up, it amounts to something typical. The script is a little lacking in terms of mystery, even if its suspense factor is fairly solid. As such it follows a pretty predictable structure that leaves little room for surprise or even that much inventiveness outside of some compelling subtext. It’s a supernatural creature feature, and that description alone is enough to give you a rough idea of what to expect.
Nevertheless, the things that Antlers does well it does with considerable measure. It may not be the most unique film out there, but it’s got plenty of atmosphere, plenty of well crafted gore, and much in the way of thematic power, even if the volume of this threatens to overwhelm the story at times. It is a respectable effort of a horror film, with enough to offer for the right-minded viewer.
Director: Scott Cooper
Writers: C. Henry Chaisson, Nick Antosca & Scott Cooper
Stars: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemmons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan
Country: United States, Canada, Mexico
Runtime: 99 minutes