Film Review: ‘Antlers’ (2021)

by Ben Martin

In the past few years, a new subgenre of Horror has come about. As it is often referred to, “trauma-based horror” utilizes realistic dramatic conflicts and the associated trauma as a catalyst for whatever tale of terror ensues. When done well, trauma-based horror results in the works of writer/director Ari Aster, whose films Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019) are prime examples of this recent subgenre. When horror movies harness trauma for nothing more than a sense of importance, however, we get David Gordan Green’s Halloween flicks thus far. Thankfully, the movie in review falls into the former, more impressive portion of trauma-based horror.

Based on the short story “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca (who co-adapts his story here), Antlers is set in a sleepy small town in Oregon filled with residents who put down roots and never left. Alas, the town and its people lost their primary industry of coal mining years ago. Since then, everyone’s been seemingly living in daily despair. Even still, elementary school teacher Julia Meadows (Keri Russell) and her brother, Sheriff Paul Meadows (Jesse Plemmons), can’t help but take notice of a reticent and seemingly troubled student named Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas). At first, the concerned adults suspect that Lucas’ domestic situation is causing his strife. But, in helping the boy, an ancient evil is uncovered. 

Despite having the backing of Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley) and David S. Goyer (The Sandman, Batman Unburied), it’s taken a long while for Antlers to shed the darkness of the shelf and reach the silver screen. Initially slated for release in 2018, the film was shelved as the studio had difficulty figuring out how to market the picture. Following that, COVID-19 delayed Antlers and countless other flicks even further. After seeing this movie, I think the delay was ultimately an even split between the material itself and global pandemic that put its release on hold. There’s no sugar coating it, folks: Antlers is a true bummer. But that’s not a bad thing.

As he has with all his previous efforts, director/co-writer Scott Cooper (Hostiles) once again puts the strife of being human on display here. Antlers is nothing short of a tragic and devastating experience of a movie. Everyone involved in making it is working at the top of their respective crafts to create a film that makes you feel … and feel deeply. For me, Antlers made me feel a true sense of dread and sadness for its characters — all of whom seem to be authentic people as opposed to cast members playing parts. I could feel their pain, and that’s what’s scary about this flick.

Now, Antlers is not going to please a broad audience. Furthermore, the film is destined to be divisive among horror fans. I doubt anyone will love it because it’s emotionally exhausting, but I know folks will appreciate the movie for how palpable it is. Aside from being a creature feature, this film isn’t scary in a traditional horror sense. Instead, it is so unsettling because of what it manages to make you feel

Perhaps I got wrapped up in the cinematic experience, but the only real issue with Antlers is its pacing. In its middle act, the movie begins to feel somewhat repetitive, almost to the point of seeming like it would work better as an hour-long TV episode. But where the movie subsequently goes makes it all worthwhile. I highly recommend Antlers if it sounds like your bag. Be warned, though, it’s the feel-bad movie of the year, and I mean that as the highest compliment.

Antlers is now playing in select theaters now.

Available on Digital HD on December 21st

Available on Blu-Ray & DVD on January 4th, 2022

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