Antlers shrugs off it’s lore-heavy roots in favor of a broad look at the cycle of violence and abuse. While I can’t deny that more could’ve been done with it on this front, it zooms in on a few individual characters in a bloody bleak tale that feels appropriate as an adaptation of a short story and where it works, it truly shines. Ironic, as the sun rarely shines in this film.
Set in a small Oregon town, Antlers gives us shots of poverty and abandoned buildings pressed against the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and forests. Characters traverse mud and rain, the most humans you’ll see in a room are just at the local school and even those numbers are low as a principal explains. Many parents homeschool their kids while trafficking illegal drugs and there’s many incidences of neglect. One student, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) has begun drawing disturbing pictures and showing signs of a tragic home life that Julia (Keri Russell) knows all too well, having just returned home after running away from a horrible father years before. Rounding out the cast is her brother and local sheriff played by the always reliable Jesse Plemons.
The acting is good and we follow the trio as bodies begin piling up and talks of a large creature are spreading. It’s the sort of graphic and sad tale that director Scott Cooper is great at, having already given audiences great or underrated films like Black Mass. When we do see this creature, a transforming wendigo from Native American folklore, in the woods or in a derelict house, it is a feast for the eyes in a mostly practical way that horror fans are sure to appreciate.
As I said before, this feels like an adaptation of a short story and that is a two-edged sword. At only an hour and thirty-nine minutes, I think the plot could’ve delved deeper into what it had to offer. It’s a shame that actor Rory Cochrane is in this film as the traditional deputy and is sidelined without much to do. It’s also a shame that we don’t get to see the characters interact more with one another. This is a tale about a Native American creature with hardly a Native American in the film as a character, and many have taken off points for that, but I find it fitting given the story. The town is slowly fading due to violence and poverty just as it was when Europeans came and took what wasn’t theirs. Even when the lights come up, you can’t help feeling like the town’s days are numbered.
Was I entertained? Definitely. The setting is somewhat unique, and Cooper doesn’t shy away from darker themes. For such a short run-time, it is a slow burn with atmosphere and Jeremy Thomas as Lucas is the heart of it all. Producer Guillermo del Toro lets him do his own thing, but we are treated with as unique a monster as we’ve come to expect from anything with his name. Even though many issues aren’t simply resolved, it’s nice to see characters dealing with the sort of issues that are often not seen in large releases unless it is essential. Cooper doesn’t seem to be looking for shock value, but rather is interested in showing humanity how it often is, and that result is frightening. Here’s to hoping the DVD comes with deleted scenes. The best stories always leave us wanting more.
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