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Antlers Review

Imagine it. Just another day at the office, doing the same thing you’ve been doing for weeks, for years, day in and day out with no advancement or progress. It’s comfortable. It puts food on the table, at least sometimes. Now imagine that a monster of unspeakable horror rips its way into your mundane existence and decimates the last vestiges of your humanity. For the people of Cispus Falls, Oregon, this nightmare becomes all too real in Antlers (2021), an intriguing and visually stunning retelling of the Wendigo mythos.

Directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Hostiles) and produced by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Nightmare Alley), this film is an adaptation of Nick Antosca’s short story “The Quiet Boy.” Antosca also had a hand in producing the film, and much like his short story, Antlers follows a linear, albeit horrific, set of events with no real beginning and no real conclusion. The film, prefaced by a cautionary adage orated in an Indigenous tongue, plops the viewer right into Cispus Falls, a bleak and dismal locale. The opening sequence snapshots the illicit activity that has become the bane and crutch for many of Cispus Falls’ citizens: drug production and addiction. Ultimately this activity is what unleashes the terrifying, antlered beast on the unsuspecting citizenry. Once an industrious coal-mining town, the failure of the industry some years prior only led to an upsurge of meth production and opioid dependency. All throughout the film, radio chatter in the background preaches about the post-mining economy, poised on the edge of revival at the local Greymouth Mine, and the rampant drug problem, the latter amplified by the sight of a lengthy line outside the treatment center where “recovery is possible.”

The atmosphere of the film is well-repped visually, much of the activity in the movie taking place against a backdrop that consistently depicts the grim mood: steely gray skies laden with rain, darkened and shadow-swathed rooms and houses, caliginous forest, and the pitch black mine. This encourages the feeling of dread, hesitancy to take action, and uncertainty that is scattered throughout the film.

Replete with a talented cast, here’s a rundown of our main characters: Jules (Keri Russel) is a schoolteacher who lived in Cispus Falls in her youth and has returned to her childhood home to be with her brother. A victim of childhood trauma and abuse, she clearly is struggling to move past her personal demons that still haunt her. Jules’ brother, Paul (Jesse Plemons), is the local sheriff, having taken on the mantle of authority that no one else seemed to want. His downtrodden and enervated demeanor are indicative of the oppressive shroud that has settled on the inhabitants of Cispus Falls over the years, but more than likely he too is still dealing with the remnants of his childhood trauma. Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas) is a child in Jules’ classroom, small and demure, dirty and dingy, in comparison to his peers. Several red flags about this child indicate parental neglect and possible abuse: malnourished physique, dirty and hole-ridden clothes, bruises on his body, sharing a tragic story for his classroom assignment, drawing disturbing illustrations…Unlike his peers, however, Lucas is harboring a scary and disturbing secret. Jules takes a personal interest in him possibly because she sees herself in him as a victim in need of help. It’s also possible she is trying to assuage her guilt of fleeing her home and leaving her younger brother behind to endure their father’s abuse. Principal Ellen Booth (Amy Madigan) and retiree Warren Stokes (Graham Greene), both represented by skillful actors, are very downplayed in their respective roles. Principal Booth, while not overly important of a character, does serve as the film’s catalyst for action after much tension-building and foot-dragging. Warren, having been Cispus Falls’ previous Sheriff, is such a minor character in the film that it almost seems he’s placed here to be the token Native American who explains what the monster actually is per his people’s folklore. Frank Weaver (Scott Haze) is Lucas’ dad, a notorious drug addict and meth producer, and the film’s first character to experience the monster in the mine.

Antlers is more of a slice of life horror collaboration because, despite having a collection of characters with potentially rich backgrounds and a creature of epic mythological proportions, there is very little development both story-and-character-wise. The plot follows a few simple steps without getting the viewer overly involved. If anything, viewers may experience irritation or even anger at the characters’ clear lack of doing something, anything, worthwhile. All of the authority figures in the film do not exert their authority to improve anyone’s situation. For example, Paul drags his feet with many things. As bodies start turning up, he files his reports and that’s that, often saying with a sigh, “I don’t know” what to do about it. When addressed about Lucas’ home situation and neglect, Paul explains that the past attempt to get CPS involved resulted in nothing and defeatedly asks, “What can I say to that?” In a similar fashion, neither Jules nor Principal Booth, both acutely aware of Lucas’ red flags, try to enact professional aid in improving Lucas’ situation. Lucas' younger brother Aiden (played by Sawyer Jones) has already been MIA from school for weeks. As a teacher and school administrator in the state of Oregon, they are required by law to report a case of possible child abuse, yet they do not. In fact, Principal Booth goes on to state that it’s just the norm to see children in conditions like that and that there’s nothing to really be done about it because of the prominent drug issue of Cispus Falls. Ultimately, viewers are given a very dismal look at how life operates in Cispus Falls, and a monster is thrown into the mix. Does the Wendigo appear because miners were raping the earth of its precious resources? Or is it because Cispus Falls exceeded the boundary of human despair and blight? The viewer is not really given an explanation per se and is left to ponder. There is no real resolution for the characters, not as they endure the events of the film, nor with the history that brought them to their current place in life. They eventually engage with the monster after a slow-burn build-up to even see the creature in its entirety.

The beast's transformation as its spirit invades a new host is indicative of its nature: greedy and selfish and always seeking. The transition is gruesome and painful, and as Lucas’ father is undergoing this event, Lucas processes it in the only way he knows how. Typical to many films in which del Toro is involved, tragedy and children and the supernatural all go hand in hand, and Lucas’ mentality is set on, “I just have to feed him, and he’ll love me.” The film is aptly named because the only part of the Wendigo we see for the longest time is, well, its antlers. In a moment of beautiful catharsis, once the action ramps up, we get to see the beast in its full glory. It’s huge. It’s gory. It’s the stuff of nightmares, and it makes the wait worthwhile. Del Toro, notorious for frightening creature creation and beautiful horror, and Antlers concept artist Guy Davis put their heads together to create a phenomenal and terrifying beast. Whether the creature is there as a consequence of human error or as a result of human tragedy, it ascertains that it is not going anywhere any time soon.

In summary, Antlers is an intriguing spin on the typical Wendigo tale. While the rising action is more of a walk than a run, the creature itself and the terror it generates makes up for the lack of personality and lack of growth that we see in the characters. Broadly, the viewer is looking in on a snippet of life in this small town as its being terrorized and feasted upon.

#AntlersFilm #Horror #Wendigo #FilmReview

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