Excelling in crafting a bleak, creepy and isolated atmosphere, with superb utilisation of grotesque and horrifying practical effects, alongside CGI augmentation. As well as a handful of strong performances at the forefront. However the surface level themes of the narrative, incredibly familiar genre traits and tropes and the frequent on the nose expository chunks of dialogue, hold Antlers back from standing out from the pack.
Written by Jack Ransom
Based on a short story called The Quiet Boy. Antlers is set in an isolated Oregon town, where a middle-school teacher (Keri Russell) and her sheriff brother (Jesse Plemons) become embroiled with her enigmatic student (Jeremy T. Thomas), whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with an ancient creature.
It’s understandable why Antlers was nearly lost within the Disney/Fox merger (similarly to that of The Night House), as its dedication to slow-burn pacing, potentially triggering (for some) abuse imagery and some of the gnarliest corpses I have ever seen on screen, doesn’t exactly attract mainstream appeal (I was the only person in my screening), which is a shame because despite not loving the film, it’s significantly better than the majority of the horror guff that’s been released over the past few years.
The plot itself does leave more to be desired. It’s incredibly simplistic and never really feels like it’s consistently building to anything, instead it treads the same line for 99 minutes. We never see how these grisly murders are effecting the small town community, both Julia (Russell) & Paul (Plemons) suffered horribly at the hands of their father (though the latter has one line of dialogue about it) it’s brought up a couple of times throughout but never feels like it bears any significant weight on the pair. The origins of the creature are given to us in one dialogue section, and again, it never feels potentially realised or delved into as it could have been.
Atmospherically, Antlers is a morbidly enrapturing affair. The dulled, yet simultaneously, ominous, beautiful and eerie location cinematography really sets the perfect mood for the material. The shadow and lighting usage is also well implemented here, though the filmmakers went a little overboard on the fog in the final act. There are some fantastically gory and savage moments scattered throughout, and a smattering of horror imagery that will be ingrained in my brain for a while. As well as the piercing shrieks and moans of the creature, that are chillingly well realised.
Jeremy T. Thomas gives a disturbed, quiet and discomforting lead performance as Lucas. He carries a lot of the film and darker material on his shoulders well for a child performance. Keri Russell delivers in a concerned and dedicated, yet fractured character role and Jesse Plemons gives a blunt and subdued performance as the town Sheriff.
Antlers is a solid little horror flick that is worth seeking out. The looming atmosphere hangs nicely over the film and the striking moments of ghastly gore and guts work well alongside the slow burn psychological drama beats. However the basic plot, lack of genuine character substance and any terrifying scares do hold it back.