Sometimes it’s just all about balance…
Antlers; the latest from director Scott Cooper sees him going into the genre of horror for the very first time with some interesting results as he successfully does a few things really well, but tries to shoe horn in a few others idea that just don’t work as well as he thinks they do.
A small-town Oregon teacher (Keri Russell) and her brother (Jesse Plemons), the local sheriff, become entwined with a young student (Jeremy T. Thomas) harboring a dangerous secret with frightening consequences.
As a story teller, Cooper has a track record of telling stories from forgotten aspects of life and pulling from depressed areas as people get pushed to their limits. As he dives into myth and lore from surrounding native communities those elements work just fine in concert with an immaculately shot film. However on the flip side of that he uses character development ideas as half hearted cheap plot devices that are unnecessary inside the genre.
Obviously, Cooper knows how to shoot a movie as Vancouver and British Columbia manage to effectively double the wilds of Oregon as he crafts this small town which feels like it has been forgotten by time itself. While it feels like a good place for a festering evil to show itself, the film glosses over the socio-economic realities of towns like this in a bit of a cheap way. It feels like an afterthought and making issues like generational family abuse as well as substance dependency into plot points for our monster born out of a pain and hate that is engulfing the entire town.
That being said to the filmmakers credit, we are given more of a slow tense burn throughout the narrative rather than any kind of cheap jump scares, and with the reveal of the actual monster kept to a bare minimum we are left using our imagination more than anything else to get us to the finish line, which ultimately helps when the 3rd act kind of falls apart due to some uneven pacing and logic gaps.
As our haggard and wayward teacher who has returned to this small town that she escaped so many years ago, Keri Russell actually does a decent job here. As a character coming to grips with the traumas of her past, trying not to see them repeated in her young student is an honest journey and we buy into it from minute one.
Jesse Plemons who is slowly morphing into indie Matt Damon was fine here as her brother and beleaguered sheriff of this small town drifting into the abyss while the likes of Rory Cochrane, Grahame Greene and Amy Madigan do fine in support but ultimately kind of get wasted.
The real gem of the film however is young Jeremy T Thomas as young Lucas who is stuck with the realities of family versus the horrors that he’s been having to witness unfold in his own house. It’s a pure powerhouse performance from this young man who captures the emotional desperation of an entire town and knows how to buy into the horror of something that he probably shouldn’t be seeing in the first place.
Ultimately, Antlers is worth watching if you like stylistic intelligent horror that tries to make you think rather than react to something purely visceral but it also tries to hard to make a dramatic social statement about not just death in general but the death of the working class community in America.