REVIEW: ‘Antlers’ succeeds as a horror but let down by drama

It’s almost deer season in Minnesota, but those expecting a movie about hunting with “Antlers” should look elsewhere.

Instead this film is a horror about a mythical beast known as a Wendigo. The main character in “Antlers” is Julia (Keri Russell), an elementary school teacher who recently moved back to a rural Oregon town, where her brother is the sheriff.

Early on in the movie, Julia notices one of her students, Lucas (Jeremy Thomas) has been rather troubled. It turns out Lucas is having issues because his father was attacked in an abandoned factory recently by a shadowed figure and now appears to be changing into something monstrous.

Director Scott Cooper’s “Antlers” has a lot going on with it. The movie has characters with trauma from parental abuse, industrial impacts on the environment and the decline of small American towns when factories close.

The problem is all of these ideas feel disjointed, with the pieces never fitting together well. The environmental theme, for example, is basically dropped halfway through. It seems like an interesting aspect, and the conflict between technology and the environment is always ripe for drama.

Yet, it becomes so underplayed that one wonders why it was brought into play. Even the main issue connecting the characters, which involves parental neglect and abuse, feels poorly handled.

For example, Julia’s character appears to have trauma from situations as a child, and it seems like this has resulted in some kind of relationship to alcohol, but that doesn’t seem fully explored.

Courtesy Searchlight Pictures.

It’s respectable when a horror film tries to tackle important subjects, but when they’re underwritten or biting off more than they can chew, it can become a slog to get through. That’s the case with “Antlers.”

The film’s drama isn’t strong enough, which is too bad because the horror aspects are alright. The cold, cloudy fall atmosphere is a great setting and the monster is slowly revealed more and more as time goes on, which is a solid build-up.

One unfortunate aspect about the film, though, is also related to the monster. Wendigos originate from Native American folklore. Yet the movie has just one Indigenous character, whose only purpose is to explain the mythical history of the legend.

This is the second movie in a 12 month span I’ve seen, the other being “News of the World,” which prominently features subjects related to Native American culture, yet completely lacks Indigenous actors in the leading roles. Hollywood can and should do better in that regard, and it’s a noticeable issue in “Antlers.”

As for the performers who’re in “Antlers,” it’s a bit hit or miss. Keri Russell gives a strong performance, convincingly portraying how her character has inner turmoil while trying to move on with her life. Jesse Plemons, though, who is usually great, comes across like he’s just phoning this one in.

Because its dramatic elements are below average, “Antlers” becomes too serious to enjoy as just simple horror entertainment. The film has a creepy aesthetic and certainly freaky moments, but this one ultimately falls short. 2.25 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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