Antlers is a highly anticipated horror film by director Scott Cooper and produced by Guillermo Del Toro. The film was delayed twice from a spring 2020 release to October 2021. While the film effectively boasts dark scenes, characters, themes, and a monster to boot that helps it settle into the mood of the Halloween season, there’s a dissonance between the characters that strain their relationships with each other and even their own backstories. That, combined with a notable lack of a certain antler-adorned mythological beast, Antlers falls short of expectations. While the story is tense enough to hold an audience’s attention, I found my mind wandering mostly to the parts of the story that I couldn’t connect with.
Antlers begins with Frank Weaver (Scott Haze), a sweet dad who just so happens to be a junkie who is manufacturing meth, coming into contact with a strange and terrifying creature. Three weeks later, his older son Lucas becomes withdrawn and absent. When he’s not facing bullies at school, he’s finding meat or roadkill to feed to his father, now grotesque, sickly, and barely human. Lucas’ little brother Aiden (Sawyer Jones) is also in the same condition but seems better connected with his humanity and less impulsive. Lucas hides in his house and keeps his brother and father locked behind a well-secured door.
His teacher Julia (Keri Russell) notices that something is wrong with him and tells her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), the sheriff of their sleepy Oregon town, that she wants to investigate. She’s shut down, but after finding drawings of a mysterious monster and connecting Lucas’ demeanor to her own experiences of abuse, Julia brings the evidence to Principal Booth (Amy Madigan). When she goes to investigate Lucas’ house she opens the locked door and becomes the final piece to Frank’s transformation into the quintessential, horrifying, antler-boasting wendigo. Then the bodies start piling up.
The post-transformation wendigo is a sight to behold. This is unfortunate because good looks at the monster are few and far between. The focus in the movie is saved for the monster symbolism. An allegory of abuse, rather than the monster with antlers. And there are points within the story where this is done well. There’s a strong thematic connection between monsters and parents in this film. Lucas’ father, in the midst of transforming into a literal mythological monster, uses his last bits of coherence to protect his sons from his waning sanity. Even as a wendigo, Frank doesn’t harm his children. It’s an incredibly interesting notion of how humanity is present, even in a beast. This wendigo was once a complicated, loving human, whereas Julia’s abusive father was a monster who looked like a human despite being portrayed as someone with little humanity, even to his children.
But the story struggles to support this commonality between Julia and Lucas. A dark past doesn’t equal an automatic character connection. Lucas and Julia have no connection, no friendship past their surface-level student-teacher relationship. Julia feels connected to Lucas because she believes they’ve both been abused. But with no other connecting thread and no trust between them, her mission to protect him seems self-righteous. He didn’t ask her to be there, and Lucas seems to have little to no interest in Julia at all. Because Julia’s intense feelings of connection aren’t reciprocated, everything she does for Lucas seems overbearing to the point of obsessiveness. It doesn’t sit right.
In some ways, Antlers is reminiscent of the 2013 film Mama, produced by Del Toro and directed by Andi Muschietti. In both films, a monstrous parental figure lays waste to those around them while trying to protect, or just not harming or harming less, their own children. Although the striking similarities, all the way down to the older sibling helping take care of the younger sibling that is more attached to the monster parent, means that both siblings probably aren’t making it out of this.
Horror movies are a lot like spicy food; everyone has their specific tastes, and some people are really, really into it. People who enjoy horror movies like Hereditary may really enjoy the movie for its beautiful settings and dark, emotional characters and themes. But for those who hope creature features actually feature the creature, Antlers falls drastically short. The main attraction of the film, the wendigo, is about as elusive as the animatronic shark from Jaws. Is the movie scary? Yes, but moderately at best. There are entertaining if predictable, jump scares and ample violent monster scenes where unsuspecting victims are skewered, or eaten, and torn in half. That being said, there are more entertaining and scarier wendigo-centric stories that can be read to you on YouTube, and take up about an eighth of the time it would take to watch Antlers.
This article was written by a guest contributor
Amanda started writing with video game reviews – every 12 year old boy’s dream! She has worked in TV development and children’s theater. She also writes and produces a podcast called Logdate. She finds a way to write about almost anything, and loves stories that inspire happiness and change.
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