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MOVIES: Antlers - Review

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Antlers is a horror movie that in equal part excites and underwhelms. Tapping into the fascinating mythology – to those who believe, a cautionary tale – of the Wendigo, a creature that many may recognise from the CW’s Supernatural series, Scott Cooper throws plenty of complex themes such as environmentalism and parental abuse into the mix, leaving a result of a horror film that’s fascinating to pick apart, if not completely spectacular in its own right.

Keri Russell’s Julia Meadows soon discovers that a troubled student – Lucas Weaver, son of Frank Weaver, played by Scott Haze, is potentially involved in something that by all rights, shouldn’t exist. The clues are there, slowly planted with the sensibility that Cooper brought to Black Mass and Hostiles – pointing its characters in the right direction. Its tone is mature, as is reflected in the age of its main characters and their occupation – Julia is a teacher who has just moved back with her brother, Jesse Plemons’ Paul, who is a police officer. Both siblings have demons of their own that Julia instantly recognises in Lucas – played superbly by Jeremy Thomas who brings the right degree of haunted to his character – a victim of deeply unfortunate circumstance that comes as the result of his upbringing.

It’s hard not to feel sympathetic to Lucas’ struggles, which Antlers does a brilliant job at illustrating – it isn’t long before both him and Julia bond over their favourite foods when Julia spots Lucas looking longingly at ice cream through a shop window. It helps that every actor is completely on board with the vision of the film – wholly committed and completely in sync. Plemons and Russell are completely believable as estranged siblings and the ghosts of the past are felt everywhere.

The film combines both the dark elements of humanity and that of supernatural into one – as befitting of the Wendigo lore. Co-writer Nick Antosca tackles themes of grief and addiction in a way that calls back to Doctor Sleep, there is a sense of Danny in Julia, and they are presented in a similiar way - even the shots of cars driving on their own through a single road in the middle of a forest evoke Mike Flanagan's work. You see Julia looking at alcohol each time she goes into the local shop on her way home from work each evening. You see hints to a past that are never outwardly shown – but you know they’re there. This is arthouse – “elevated” horror territory – as much as I hate to use that word – but the sensibility of Cooper’s hand is played all across this delicate film.

Antlers lacked the nuance required to tackle its subject matter with deft hand and care and unfortunately feels around twenty minutes too short. Much of the atmosphere is impeccably crafted, the small-town feel of the local setting in Oregon feels very much alive and lived inside its mountain ranges – but the narrative ultimately runs down a cul-de-sac – it backs itself into a corner that is entirely predictable and nothing is fully surprising – the jump scares aside, which are some of the most well-crafted in a horror movie in recent years – the general plot goes from beginning to end in a straightforward way that puts the puzzles together in a way that means you’ll always know exactly what’s going to happen before the characters do.

The creature design and practical effects work mixed together with subtle CGI work is excellent. It’s not a surprise to find out that the producer for this film is Guillermo del Toro. Antlers does a very impressive job at putting all the pieces together for the creatures to look real and completely believable in this world. The third act is to nobody’s surprise – the film’s high point – and you’ll remember it, too. It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie never fully lives up to your expectations – but it’s hard not to admire the film’s clear ambition.

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