Released: 28th October
Seen: 9th November
Horror has always been a great genre for talking about the more difficult, darker topics that might be a little too much for other genres. The use of allegory and metaphor can be even more powerful than just discussing a certain topic outright, look at recent hits like Get Out which was just a 2 hour allegory for racism but touched on more elements of the subject than any drama could ever hope for. It’s a powerful tool when used well and Antlers certainly tries to use it and gets a lot out of it, but there’s something kind of off here that makes it fail to live up to its full potential.
Antlers takes place in a little mining town in Oregon, the kind of town where there’s nothing to do but cook meth and hope your meth cooking story is interesting enough to turn into a 5 season drama series on AMC. In this little town there’s a boy named Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) who lives with his father, his brother and a dark secret about his father and brother. Lucas’ teacher Julia (Keri Russell) has noticed that there’s something about Lucas that worries her, the boy seems extremely malnourished and is awfully quiet… and, rather strangely, lives near a forest where Julia’s brother Paul (Jesse Plemons) keeps finding dead mutilated bodies that look like they’ve been torn apart by an animal that might also have human teeth.
Right off the bat, Antlers is a blunt as hell metaphor about child abuse and specifically the cycle of abuse. It does this through severe body horror and by just having every character turn to the screen and go “Look at this kid, clearly there’s some abuse here”. It doesn’t even bother with being subtle, which sometimes works for it and sometimes works against it. Honestly a lot of the elements of this film have moments where they elevate the story and moments of hindering it, which leads to a film that feels like it needed a few more goes at the scripting and editing stage.
The central performance that Antlers is hanging everything on is that of Keri Russell, she’s the emotional centre of the entire film and who we’re meant to follow. Her character, Julia, even has her own sad backstory relating to abuse from her own father and the film will remind you of that regularly… however, the problem is that the focus should probably be on Lucas since he is the one who is dealing with a dad that’s turned into some kind of blood sucking creature from hell, but the film almost pushes him off to the side right to the end and treats him less like a character and more like an objective.
Whenever Antlers does just let us follow Lucas trying to get through his day, dealing with bullies or his vain attempt to look after his brother and father is when this film soars. You’re forced to watch this child who is clearly being abused (emotionally and physically at bare minimum) both understand that he’s trapped in hell and somehow trying to make it work, it elevates the harsh metaphor and you root for him to somehow break from under his abusive father’s grasp… but the film thinks it’s all about Julia, so Lucas never gets to have his big moment of strength that his story sorely needed.
It also doesn’t help that, around the final act, Antlers goes from being this slow ponderous metaphorical horror film that revels in slow burning tension to just a standard creature feature where the big beast wants to kill everyone. It’s an impressive creature, downright gorgeous to look at (as is most of the film, this is one of the most gloriously impressive set of visuals I’ve seen in a horror film for quite some time) but when the film devolves into “Well time for our final girl to go take on the beast” it just gets kind of silly.
What Antlers tries to do is show a cycle of abuse by using the story of the Wendigo, a first nations folklore story… you might not have noticed but I’ll just state it outright, there’s only one first nations character in the film and their job is to tell the story of the Wendigo so we can actually put a name to the big creature we’ve been seeing glimpses of throughout the film. Hell the scenes with this character play like they were added in after someone realised they didn’t actually name the beast and had to throw in two scenes with the first First Nations person that they could get their hands on. It’s emblematic of one of the big problems the film has… it’s not fully done.
Throughout Antlers we’re shown resolutions for problems we never saw, or story threads that just go off into nothing. It feels like there’s at least a half hour missing from this film, a lot of story beats that would’ve made everything feel a lot richer and maybe even helped make some character motivations make more sense. It’s not that the story being told is bad, but it’s incomplete. It’s like if you told the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears but you just kept forgetting to talk about Mama Bear, you’d still get the point of the story but there’s clearly something pretty important missing that drags it back.
Antlers isn’t a bad movie, it’s just not quite ready. It has gorgeous visuals and genuinely stunning performances. There’s a great idea here and when everything is working together in tandem you can see something special just begging to burst out and destroy you emotionally but there’s enough stumbles in tone and story that it doesn’t have the impact that it clearly should have.