Movie Review: Antlers

If there’s a fantastical story to be told, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (THE SHAPE OF WATER; PAN’S LABYRINTH) is a good person to have on your team.  That’s the case with ANTLERS, which is directed and co-written by Scott Cooper (HOSTILES; BLACK MASS; CRAZY HEART) and produced by del Toro.

Adapted from Nick Antosca’s short story “The Quiet Boy”, which was first published in 2019, ANTLERS tells the story of Julia Meadows (Keri Russell, TV’s THE AMERICANS and FELICITY), who is a teacher in a small town in Oregon that has seen better days – both the town and Julia.  She has recently returned to her hometown after many years for reasons that are explained in the story, and she shares her family home with her brother, Paul (Jesse Plemons, JUNGLE CRUISE; JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH; I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS; VICE; GAME NIGHT; AMERICAN MADE; THE PROGRAM; TV’s BREAKING BAD), who is the local sheriff.  Julia becomes increasingly concerned about one of her students, a 12-year-old boy who has a very vivid imagination but is rather a loner who gets bullied by some of the other kids in the class.  Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas in his feature film debut) also seems to be suffering from neglect, which doesn’t surprise the school’s principal as Lucas’ father, the boy’s sole caregiver, has overdosed on opioids more than a few times over the years.  When Julia takes it upon herself to learn more about Lucas’ home life, she unwittingly sets in motion a chain of events that unleashes a mythical creature that wreaks havoc on the town.

I read the short story (it’s available online) before I saw the movie, which may not have been such a good idea.  The two are substantially different, as I expected they would be, but the story is very barebones, which resonated more with me than the film did.  My friend, who saw the film with me, also read the story first and he agrees with me, whereas my colleagues, who have not read the story, thought the movie was great.  I didn’t dislike the film but I found that it had a lot of padding in it (such as abuse, addiction, trauma and more) that didn’t work for me.  One of the problems I had with the movie is that far too many people go into dark spaces with just a flashlight.  Yes, it’s a horror film and going where you probably shouldn’t go at night by yourself is a staple of the genre but so many times in one movie?  In this respect, the story is superior.  I also think our newly-empowered censors in Hong Kong were very busy on this film because there’s one key scene that sticks out like a sore thumb.  It isn’t explained very well in the movie but is explained in the story.

To its credit, ANTLERS has a very strong sense of place (with British Columbia standing in for Oregon, as it does in many movie and TV productions) and cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister (OFFICIAL SECRETS; TV’s THE TERROR) employs grey filters to give the town a bleak look.  It’s reminiscent of the X-FILES, and Mulder and Scully would have fit in perfectly here.  Canadian national treasure Graham Greene (WIND RIVER; DANCES WITH WOLVES) is on hand, though severely underused, to add some native authenticity to a story of what can happen when you mess with Mother Earth.

All in all, though, ANTLERS is not bad.  If you do go see it, read the story after you see the movie, not before.  The film opened in Hong Kong’s cinemas yesterday (October 28), and opens in other major markets around the world today.

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