Director: Scott Cooper
Writers: C. Henry Chaisson, Nick Antosca, and Scott Cooper,
Starring: Kerri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, and Amy Madigan
2021 is the year that just keeps on giving to horror fans. This weekend marks the release of not one, but two great horror films. Last Night in Soho may overshadow Antlers a little in the already packed line up of cinema showings, but Antlers should be sought out as it is a deeply interesting and truly unique horror film. Much like Let the Right One In, Antlers is so much more wrapped up in the clothing of a horror film. This is an exploration on environmentalism, abuse, family, and poverty.
Julie Meadows (Kerri Russell) has moved back to her hometown, currently living with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons). One of her students, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), worries her. He’s bullied by the other children, the story he creates is full of terrifying imagery and she’s chilled to find horrific drawings in his desk. She starts to suspect that he’s a victim of abuse at home and starts trying to investigate his situation, not knowing how bad things really are.
Antlers spends a lot of time building a sense of dread, with an unsettling atmosphere. The film is essentially a werewolf story, Lucas’s dad is attacked and is turning into a monster. The effects are gruesome and gory, the killings are violent. There’s a lot of stomach-churning corpses and one specific cannibalistic scene. Lucas’s house is falling apart and decaying around him. There’s a sense that things are only going to get worse right from the opening scene. Director Scott Cooper does a great job at creating a familiar and yet slightly unhinged world.
At the heart of the story is the characters and they are all incredibly well written. You really get invested in them and care about them. The performances are all great, especially Kerri Russel, who is stunning as Julie. Her character is the emotional heart of the film. Her childhood, which is hinted at, rather than explicitly told, has traumatised her. The whole cast of characters, Julie especially, feel like real people and you get engrossed in their lives so when the horror starts, it’s that much more effective.
The opening of this film is dark, both in tone and visually. Lucas’s dad is brutally attacked in almost pure darkness. His screams carry out to the car that Lucas is sitting in. It’s not clear what is actually happening during the attack as everything is moving so fast and there is so much darkness. There are a few moments like this. You barely get to see he monster that Lucas’s dad is turning into, it’s always just out of focus, not at the centre of the shot or in the shadows.
The story is told with an economic downturn as a backdrop. Paul is the sheriff and one of his responsibilities is to evict people who can’t afford their rent. People are struggling all over and there’s news that the mines are going to be re-opened, despite the devastating effects on the environment. It’s strange that this takes such a backseat because by the time the film is over it’s not really relevant. It feels underbaked. There’s even a point where Julie follows Lucas home, only to see him stop at an ice-cream store, with a slow moving line out front. You think it’s going to be something like a soup-kitchen, but no it’s an ice-cream store. Julie buys him an ice cream and they have a conversation about doughnuts being a fruit. It feels strange that they build up this world of despair at the beginning only for it to never really be a part of the story.
The film also touches on child abuse, with this being the main driving force of Julie’s character. She feels the need to protect Lucas because she can see herself in him. Lucas is suffering from neglect, in the flashbacks to his dad turning, you can see his father loves him. He puts locks on the door and tells his children to make sure he never comes out. In the end it leaves Lucas completely isolated from everyone. He’s forced to care for his dad, and it can be seen as a metaphor for when young children must care for sick and dying parents despite their young age. It’s a tragic story and brings a lot emotional weight to the story.
Antlers is an interesting and unique film. It’s full of originality and a great monster. The atmosphere is tense, and the characters are well-written. There are a few ideas that aren’t developed properly, but there is still enough horror to get your heart racing.
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