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Monday, October 25, 2021

[Review] ‘Antlers’ Sleepwalks Through Somber Folkloric Family Nightmare

Everything about Antlers, on paper, ticks off the boxes that mark it as one of the year’s most highly anticipated horror movies. Or rather, last year, where it was initially scheduled before the pandemic bounced it off the calendar and stretched out anticipation further. Based on the short story “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca, produced by Guillermo del Toro and starring Keri Russell, the bonafides for this folkloric horror movie tease the potential for something special. While Antlers is expertly and stunningly crafted, it’s a somber sleepwalk that only comes alive at its conclusion.

Julia Meadows (Russell) recently returned to her small, isolated Oregon hometown and temporarily moved in with her brother, Paul (Jesse Plemons), the town Sheriff. She’s picking up the pieces from an unexplained past life and taken up a teaching job. It’s there that Julia notices Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas), a quiet student who exhibits domestic abuse symptoms. When Julia learns that the boy’s dad (Scott Haze) is a single parent with a criminal record and discovers disturbing art on his desk, she decides to intervene. Julia soon realizes that Lucas’s case is anything but typical; he’s harboring a very dark, deadly secret at home.

Keri Russell in the film ANTLERS. Photo by Kimberley French. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Director Scott Cooper, working from a script that he co-wrote with Antosca and Henry Chaisson, takes a serious and melancholic approach matched by the gloomy mists of the Pacific Northwest coastal setting. Cooper bides his time in unraveling the full scope of Lucas’s domestic situation at home, opting for a slow-burning dread that drops essential details of this story piecemeal. An intense opening scene gives a strong indication of what’s happening, followed by disturbing moments that sees Lucas killing and bringing home animals and darkened shots of bolted and locked closed bedroom doors.

It takes Julia much longer to catch up to the audience, working through her own resurfaced childhood trauma and projecting it upon Lucas. Cooper methodically teases out character dynamics, hints at backgrounds, and carefully doles out the exposition. While Russell is forced to convey a past with alcoholism solely by longing glances at bottles behind the store counter, a Native American former sheriff (Graham Greene) spells out the supernatural rules of this folkloric fairytale through clunky exposition dump. Once all cards are on the table, and all players are fully aware of what they’re dealing with, it’s only then that Antlers shows signs of life.

Once the third act finally arrives, the movie wakes up and delivers a stunning, horror-heavy third act that features a breathtaking creature design that makes you wonder where this movie had been the entire time. Everything about Antlers, visually, is sensational. The setting, the glimpses of gore, the production design, and the third act are exquisite. The cast, specifically Russell and young Thomas, are remarkable as deeply broken protagonists rendered vulnerable by those meant to protect them.

Jeremy T. Thomas and Keri Russell in the film ANTLERS. Photo by Kimberley French. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

The metaphors for domestic abuse and a system that binds them in place makes for an interesting angle. But Cooper takes it too seriously, putting the emotional trauma at the forefront and saving the horror for the finale. There are no scares or tension to liven up the first two-thirds, just an oppressive, somber feeling of dread and tragedy. It also makes the supernatural and folkloric elements underbaked outside of one exposition monologue. By the time the payoff finally arrives, it’s over too quickly to satisfy after the languid buildup.

Ultimately, Antlers disappoints by how much potential gets squandered. The concept and folklore provide fertile ground for horror, as does the incredible cast and crew involved with the production. But it struggles to find a balance between allegory and supernatural and underserves both until far too late.

Antlers opens in theaters on October 29, 2021.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3687579/review-antlers-sleepwalks-somber-folkloric-family-nightmare/

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