Film Review: Antlers favours emotionally complex horror over standard genre thrills

One of many 2020 titles that saw its original release delayed due to the pandemic, and one of the few that held its nerve and opted out of a streaming alternative, Antlers, from director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Black Mass) and producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water), proves its bold mentality weaves alongside its narrative, tackling trauma, neglect, and abuse in the guise of a fantastical-leaning horror film.

The opening sequence sets the tone for what’s to come for the 99 minute run-time, a dark, suggestively violent set-piece that utilises the film’s crisp sound design, with every foreboding noise unnerving the audience with a particularly uncertainty.

After our interest has been piqued with a sequence that suggests the nightmarish temperament Cooper and del Toro will adhere to, Antlers shifts forward a few weeks to lay focus on Julia Meadows (Keri Russell), a school teacher returning to Oregon after a twenty year absence whose moved back into her Oregon family home with her brother, local sheriff Paul (Jesse Plemons), both struggling with their own lingering demons from an abusive childhood.

Julia’s own dealing with her past trauma allows a susceptibility to young Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas), a student who, she suspects, is suffering abuse at home.  He’s a quiet boy, one who (not surprisingly) is the victim of bullying at school, and his home life is a far more disturbing environment than anyone could comprehend; let’s just say, home visits to the Weaver household should come with an “Enter at your own risk” warning.

Though the terror of Antlers eventually gives way to disturbing fairy-tale-cum-body horror, Cooper’s film is most effective when its darkening innocence, as seen through both Lucas’s present and Julia’s past.  Similar in tone and nature to Andy Muschietti’s 2013 supernatural scarer Mama, another painting with the del Toro stroke, this film largely avoids cheap jump scares and flowing blood in favour of something more psychological; that’s not to say this doesn’t have its share of violent moments, it just doesn’t rely on them to maintain its horrific personality.

Those expecting something traditionally scary might best be served seeking thrills elsewhere (I hear Michael Myers is carving up townspeople left and right), but for complex horror, one that revels in quiet musings and reflections on abuse and the emotions that are drawn from that, Antlers – aside from a few standard genre additives – is an after-dark story worth reading.

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Antlers is screening in Australian theatres from October 28th, 2021.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.

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