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Saturday, October 30, 2021

Antlers


Scott Cooper's Antlers is one of the darkest films I've seen in a while, both visually and tonally.  It's one of those movies that, if it were a cartoon, everyone would be drawn with a little rain cloud hovering over their heads and following them around.  However, the characters within it are not hopeless mopes.  They may be facing hard times, and dealing with a cannibalistic mythical creature that's terrorizing their town, but they're not giving up the fight.  You have to admit, that's not easy.

The film has a relentlessly heavy tone, which might turn some off.  This is just as much a drama about the lives of these characters, as it is a thriller concerning the monster in the middle of it all.  Even the film's setting is gloomy.  It's set in a mining town in Oregon that is pretty much on its last legs, and where it seems unemployment and evictions are a way of life.  This was once a booming town when the mines were active, but they have long been stripped, and now pretty much serve as a place where drug addicts can cook meth.  One of its residents, Julia Meadows (Keri Russell), spent most of her life trying to leave this place and her past behind.  Now a family tragedy has brought her back, she's living with the younger brother (Jesse Plemons from Jungle Cruise) she initially left behind, and has taken a job as a teacher at the local Middle School as she tries to sort through a lot of personal demons that the recent tragedy has dug up.

One of the students in her class is a scrawny and sad-faced 12-year-old boy named Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), who is a victim of bullies at school, and whom Julia fears is living in an abusive home, given his physical state, plus the disturbing and violent drawings that she keeps on finding at his desk.  We follow Lucas' walks home from school, where he stops to pick up any animal carcasses he might find, then returns to his mostly abandoned house, where he enters a locked door leading up to the attic.  There is something up there that he is feeding those carcasses to, something that looks almost human, but animal in nature.  Each time we see it, it seems to lose more of its humanity.

Of course, Julia doesn't know this, and thinks that Lucas' secret is much more human.  She starts snooping around, looking for any sign of an abusive home environment.  What she finds is obviously much more sinister and ancient in nature, a mythical evil that the locals of the land describe as a wendigo.  How the child came to be keeping and feeding such a creature in his home, I will leave for you to discover.  Regardless, Antlers makes a steady and confident stride from a tragic human drama to a creature film with a body horror bent with relative ease.  The film was produced by Guillermo del Toro, and it shows in the film's love of ancient monsters and myths.  These elements mix well with co-writer and director Cooper's usual heavy style and haunted characters.  

This is not a fast-paced or thrilling movie, but it is quietly unnerving and interesting throughout.  I found myself wrapped up in these characters and their individual sorrows and struggles.  Sure, the movie could have gone a bit more in depth with some of these characters, but what's here is compelling.  Russell and Plemons both give sympathetic turns as siblings that are haunted by their shared pasts, as well as what's currently going on around them.  She thought she had left this life behind, only to find herself dragged back into it, while he never left, and as the local sheriff, is forced to evict people who he has probably known most of his life.  When the supernatural angle takes over the story, Russell remains captivating, while Plemons slowly slips into a character type who has to doubt everything, and is constantly wrong until he is face-to-face with the evil in question.  Still, before that happens, his character has a sad quality that lead to some emotional scenes.


I doubt this movie will go over huge with the Halloween weekend crowd, as it's not exactly built on thrills.  It's more about slowly mounting dread, and these characters facing the sadness of their pasts as well as their current situation.  Cooper has not made a traditional monster movie here.  With Antlers, he has made a sad human drama with a sinister paranormal angle.

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