Combustible Celluloid
With: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan, Cody Davis, Sawyer Jones, Jake T. Roberts
Written by: Henry Chaisson, Nick Antosca, Scott Cooper, based on a short story by Nick Antosca
Directed by: Scott Cooper
MPAA Rating: R for violence including gruesome images, and for language
Running Time: 99
Date: 10/29/2021

Antlers (2021)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Moot Points

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This horror tale benefits from strong characters and performances, and from a rather astonishing monster design, but it suffers from too many cliches and jump scares as the story wears a bit too thin.

Schoolteacher Julia Meadows (Keri Russell) moves back to her dying Oregon hometown to be with her brother, sheriff Paul Meadows (Jesse Plemons), after the death of their father. In her class, Julia notices a boy in her class, Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas), frightfully thin, and a writer of dark stories.

Julia notices signs that point to abuse at Lucas's home, heightened by the fact that Lucas's younger brother hasn't been seen at school in some time. While Julia navigates the red tape that might allow her to do something and help Lucas, she could never guess at what malevolent, perpetually hungry thing is actually in Lucas's house.

Director Scott Cooper has jumped between genres — a music drama (Crazy Heart), a crime story (Out of the Furnace), a gangster movie (Black Mass), and a Western (Hostiles), with fairly generic results each time, and Antlers, his fifth movie and first foray into horror, is no different (although, the child-in-peril elements are a lot). As a former actor himself, he does shape performances well. Russell's Julia wears her dark past like a festering wound, and the pain drives her forward. Whereas Plemons's Paul has let tragedy beat him down; he's reluctant and sadly ineffectual. However, Oscar-nominee Graham Greene is stuck in a cliched role of the wise old man who knows the truth about the monster.

Cooper's portrait of the dying town is also quite powerful, even if the point is driven home a bit strongly. The movie demonstrates how a focus on corporations and profits leaves so many people out in the cold. (Antlers has a chilling, wintry atmosphere, and a feeling of frozen mud.) But after Cooper gets the story going, he lacks the skill to build a terrorizing rhythm.

He falls back on old-time chestnuts like characters wandering around alone in the dark and making dumb mistakes, basic jump-scares, and using brute force when ideas are called for. A truly mind-blowing monster, accompanied by hideous sound effects and a powerful music score by Javier Navarrete (of Pan's Labyrinth; Guillermo Del Toro was a producer here), may win over some horror hounds. But for most others, it'll be a moot point.

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