Intense! Antlers is a terrifying film that will truly absorb you! See is on the BIGGEST screen with the BEST sound possible. From stunning, terrifying creature effects to thoughtful, provocative commentary on the trauma of grief and loss, this is one of the best films of the year, period. Directed by Scott Cooper and produced by Guillermo del Toro, this highly atmospheric film is based on the novel The Quiet Boy by Nick Antosca. Every element of the mise-en-scene works flawlessly to capture your imagination and take it to some incredibly dark places where you will confront the stuff of nightmares. Del Toro’s eye for the visual storytelling of a darkly fantastic world is witnessed in every frame of this outstanding motion picture. Cooper has clearly worked closely with del Toro in order to combine their various cinematic storytelling methods to craft a modern story steeped in mythology. Keri Russell and Jeremy T Thomas deliver frightening performances; especially Thomas–he is incredibly creepy! Antlers is the type of horror film that is surely gong to find a place amongst the classics in the future. While so many horror films in recent years have included overt sermon-like ideological messages that feel more like a weapon, this film integrates the heavy subject matter exploring the trauma experienced following abuse, grief, and loss into the background, which allows the foreground to remain focussed on the action plot and characters. Furthermore, this film illustrates the power of horror to be able to simultaneously entertain the masses while providing thought-provoking content that manifests ideas that are difficult to talk about or show directly. But through nightmarish imagery, audiences allow themselves to be taken into liminal spaces to overcome the effects of trauma.
A small-town Oregon teacher and her brother, the local sheriff, discover that a young student is harbouring a dangerous secret with frightening consequences.
Prepare for an immersive, haunting world that is both whimsical and ominous, as can only be conceived by the mind of del Toro. While del Toro is not credited as director, clearly Cooper worked closely with del Toro to craft the visual and soundscape design of the film. And as a director that is still early in his career, you couldn’t ask for a better coach along the way. I anticipate that we will see great films from Cooper in the future, especially if he leans into horror and fantasy. From the moment the film opens, the breathtaking cinematography is like an oil on canvas that paints an overwhelming sense of dread that serves as the backdrop for the terror that is about to beset the small Oregon town. Lately, there is a trend to use spectacular cinematography and production design to compensate for weak storytelling (i.e. The Night House), but thankfully the atmosphere in Antlers is just that–the atmosphere–not the sole reason to watch the film. Establishing the tone up front is so very important in order to set the bar for what the audience is going to experience. Everything feels incredibly tangible; there is a dimension that cannot be replicated by CGI. Yes, there is some CGI in the film, but it’s used to supplement what cannot be practically created. And when the world on screen has visual depth, it heightens the level of tension because there is a sense of vulnerability that is evoked within the audience.
Need a creepy kid in your next horror film, then Jeremy T Thomas should be on your casting list! I loved everything about the performative dimension he brought to the screen in his character of Lucas. You believe that he is truly disturbed from the moment you meet him following the traumatic event he experiences in the prologue of the film. He perfectly communicates both vulnerability and defensiveness simultaneously. Keri Russell plays Julia Meadows, Lucas’ teacher. And early on we learn that she is clearly dealing with her own demons, both distant past and more recent present. There is such a significant degree of authenticity in her performance! Much like Thomas strikes that perfect balance in vulnerability and defensiveness, Russell delivers those same traits, but adds in a strength of character that refuses to be sidelined by school officials or her brother, the sheriff. Speaking of whom, Jesse Plemons’ Sheriff is another character that is dealing with the trauma of his childhood, and in a world in which filmmakers seem to actively finding ways to disparage law enforcement, this film delivers a character that, albeit imperfect as we all are, does truly care about his community, but does find the supernatural to be unbelievable until he sees it with his own eyes.
The central theme in Antlers is an exploration of childhood trauma, grief, and loss. Both the characters of Julia and Lucas parallel one another in terms of their respective journeys. Without getting into spoiler territory, both character suffer from childhood trauma. Of course, Lucas is in the midst of his childhood trauma while Julia’s stems from her chronological childhood; however, Julia is dealing with a more recent demon that likely is connected to alcoholism, which is what prompted her relocation from California to Oregon to live with her brother in their childhood home. Lucas appears to have had a hard time since his mother died, which is perhaps what drove his father to cooking and moving meth. And if the death of one’s mother at such an early age isn’t traumatic enough, he continues to experience traumatic grief and loss. We learn early on that Julia also lost her mother at about Lucas’ age, and we get flashbacks to the childhood trauma that eventually caused Julie to leave her brother, and move to California. In order to get into the details, that would require going into spoiler territory, which I don’t want to do in order to preserve the experience of the film.
It’s no spoiler that there is a malevolent entity at the center of this film, and I won’t go into details as to what it is. But what I want to talk about is the outstanding combination of CGI and practical effects that brings the entity to life. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen in recent years. It’s both gruesome and beautiful, all at the same time! And the best part is the reveal! Won’t go into details, but you will be completely in shock and awe at the ALIEN level tension, suspense, and surprise. Like what Spielberg did with JAWS and Ridley Scott did with ALIEN, Cooper and del Toro keep the creature cards close to their chest, so as you get glimpses of the creature, the tension will rise to incredible levels. And this anticipation of getting to see the creature will pay off in spades! Less is more, that is the approach in this film. When the violence and gore hit, they HIT! But because this film is not about the creature, we are able to focus on the characters. Symbolically, the creature is a manifestation of all that we cannot see with the naked eye, but is very much present nevertheless.
You don’t want to miss seeing this masterful horror film on the big screen! If you only vaguely remember the trailer, DON’T rewatch it. Go into this film with just a little knowledge, and you’ll be glad you did. If your experience is anything like mine, then you will undoubtedly be carrying on internal monologues in response to the nightmarish journey through the effects trauma has on the mind and body.
Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.
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