Review: ‘Antlers’ is like a depressing blanket that you can’t push back
Filmed in the fall of 2018 and slated for release in April 2020 – a date that is sure to cringe in an uncomfortable memory – “Antlers” is finally reaching audiences, but the delay might not make the hearts more affectionate. Even with the production of visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, this horror film uses a mythological creature from indigenous folklore to make a statement about the socio-economic state of the country. Political horror has found a wider following over the years, especially since Jordan Peele found his unique and alluring voice, but “Antlers” focuses too much on the moody, giving audiences no break as the film doesn’t. only gets darker, weirder and further into a pit of endless despair.
Normally, the desolation of a film and the misery of its imagery would only delight my twisted sensibility. Horror can be beautiful and complex, an underrated medium for making important social commentary. But this movie is like a depressing blanket that you can’t push back. There is no lightness, even with a throwaway dialogue line or an alluring cut shot. It’s as bad as it gets. As the action progresses, the lingering feeling that there is no magical holy water or silver bullet to stop this fleeing monster, both the physical villain of the film and the overall metaphor. which is perhaps the greatest threat to the characters, a secret message about the risks of a degrading society.
It is fitting that the film takes place in a forgotten mining town and blue collar, haunted by poverty and terrorized by overdoses. This fictional town of Cispus Falls, Oregon is a place full of haunting memories for Julia Meadows (Keri Russell). A college teacher, she returned to her hometown after many years of absence, fleeing a time and place and a person that no longer exists. She walks past the liquor section of the market with visible apprehension, and her relationship with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemmons), the town sheriff, is plagued by their unspoken past.
“Abuse” is vaguely mentioned often. Julia’s trauma stems from the general “abuse” her father inflicted on her. It seems to be mostly emotional, maybe sexual, but nothing is firm. Flashbacks show Julia hiding under the stairs or screaming as she finds her father naked on the bed. She talks about his control over her and the demands he would make. Julia is obviously still recovering from the trauma and a strong advocate in the fight against child abuse. That’s why Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas) catches his eye. Smaller than most college kids, he’s brooding and silent with eyes that are often puffy and tired. What happens at home is not all violence; it is a crisis of both epidemic and magical proportions.
Based on a short story “The Quiet Boy” written by Nick Antosca that helped adapt it to the screenplay, the film features an ancient antagonist, the wendigo, a spirit that roams the forest in search of a host. Details on the wendigo vary widely, and there are many versions of the same creature. He is believed to become a meat-hungry human, preferring to eat carnivorous, in order to transform into his true form, a hybrid of a giant, wood-burning humanoid beast. del Toro and co-writer-director Scott Cooper have the flexibility to grow the creature at their discretion, and the visuals are detailed and eerie visceral.
Lucas’s father, Frank (Scott Haze) found himself infected in this way after encountering a Wendigo spirit in the mines where he illegally set up his drug lab. He locks himself in the attic of their home as the metamorphosis begins, characterized by howls of hunger and a luxurious feast of the dead carcasses Lucas can provide for him.
However, it was the drugs that did the most damage to the city, not a mythical beast. Allegory is laid heavily and inherently in the story. Lucas would have been irrevocably traumatized in either outcome: a father who continued on the road of drug dealing (and, we assume, drug use), or a father who was victimized. ‘a wendigo, bullying Lucas and his little brother Aiden (Sawyer Jones). A brother will also lose his life due to wendigo, a possible metaphor for the invisible victims of addiction.
Julia rides this big horse, leading the charge to find out what’s going on in the Weaver house and to save Lucas from a situation she knows all too well. Russell is endearing and likeable like Julia, which makes the film’s imperfections and vague points a little more tolerable. Child actor Thomas also gives an incredibly touching performance that elevates the film as a whole, drawing us into its story.
Like a spirit that lives and breeds from decay, Abuse is a demon almost impossible to defeat, a pessimistic prospect for a film that sinks into this dark and cynical message. We both see and feel the vibe that Cooper sets throughout the movie as if we felt a pimple. He ruminates in an ominous, festering way of horror and torture that is mostly out of sight until he erupts with a little pop. Pouf, let’s go … until another forms elsewhere and the cycle continues. Choosing this one will be painful and messy, and a lesson in history will repeat itself.
“Antlers” is now in theaters.