ANTLERS movie poster | ©2021 Fox Searchlight

ANTLERS movie poster | ©2021 Fox Searchlight

Rating: R
Stars: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Amy Madigan, Sawyer Jones
Writers: Henry Chaisson & Nick Antosca and Scott Cooper, based on the short story “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca
Director: Scott Cooper
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Release Date: October 29, 2021

ANTLERS has a great monster design. It also creates a good analogy between the text of its horror premise and the subtext of a real-world version. It also has loads of creepiness and atmosphere, courtesy of Scott Cooper’s direction.

However, thematically speaking, ANTLERS winds up biting off more than it can chew. Some of its subject matter is a little too heavy for the treatment it gets here. There’s also a problem with the scares being telegraphed. The creature is horrifying, but with one or two exceptions, its attacks are so telegraphed that we seldom are very surprised.

We’re in a small Oregon mining town, where locals are struggling economically. One of these folks, Frank Weaver (Scott Haze), has two motherless little boys, twelve-year-old Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) and seven-year-old Aiden (Sawyer Jones), to look after. So Frank is supplementing his income by cooking up meth in an abandoned part of a refinery on the edge of a coal mine. Some very weird noises start to emerge from the mine shaft. Little Aiden comes looking for his dad.

Three weeks later, Lucas is not paying attention in class; he’s preoccupied with his thoughts and working on some disturbing drawings. His teacher, Julia Meadows (Keri Russell), is worried about Lucas’s welfare. Julia has returned to town after a twenty-year absence and is staying with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), who happens to be the town sheriff.

We learn that Julia has experienced enough childhood trauma of her own to recognize it in Lucas. She tries to get her student to confide in her about what’s going on at home, but the boy is reluctant to open up.

At the same time, Paul is investigating some very weird stuff in the woods. This leads him to consult with a retired colleague, played by Graham Greene.

Here is one bit of narrative clumsiness, all by itself. ANTLERS deals with Native American folklore. This is completely legitimate. What seems a little awkward is having Greene be the movie’s lone Native American actor/character, who is here mainly to provide exposition – well, that and a typically solid Greene performance. Further, the exposition seems to contradict a bit of what occurs in the storyline.

The other actors are all good, and young Thomas is exceptional, haunting and haunted. Writers Henry Chaisson & Nick Antosca and director Cooper, adapting the ANTLERS screenplay from Antosca’s short story “The Quiet Boy,” bring a sense of quiet fatalism to the film.

The filmmakers are definitely onto something in their depiction of Lucas’ predicament, which is that of a child trying to keep his family together under impossible circumstances. But they don’t fully commit to exploring this. Meanwhile, Julia’s back story is so loaded that it begs more attention, while Paul’s goes unexamined.

The upshot is that ANTLERS raises more issues than it can effectively handle. Its ambition is commendable, but it leaves a lot of its potential unfulfilled.

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