Antlers review: Scott Cooper’s Horror film is ambitious if somewhat conventional.
If there was any 21st century director whose work harkens back to the aesthetic of the New Hollywood movement, it’s Scott Cooper. From Crazy Heart to Out of the Furnace, Black Mass and Hostiles- quality fluctuates on each prospect, but their craftsmanship and assembly line of awe-inspiring performances are undeniable, in addition to knowing that it’s Cooper behind the lens is an elephant in the room for the right reasons. His trademark raw direction and human drama make him an alluring candidate for Horror; so after numerous delays and a teaser trailer dating back to 2019, we can feast on Antlers- an elevated terror event if there ever was one.
Shepherded by Guillermo Del Toro and based on TV showrunner Nick Antosca’s short story The Quiet Boy; Antlers deals with siblings Julia, a school teacher, and Paul Meadows, town sheriff, as they attempt to save one of her students- Lucas Weaver- from an impending supernatural threat.
Surrounding this premise is the petrifying, barren landscape of an unnamed blue-collar town in Oregon, as it’s constantly drenched in fog, clouds and forests with plenty of dead to spare. Scott Cooper has proven before how his immersiveness into a small town and rural atmosphere enhances his cinematic ventures, and this is one of his best yet. To think that Florian Hoffmeister, the DP behind Mortdecai and Johnny English Strikes Again, could make us care about how it looks, keep him on your radar.
Keri Russell made herself a pièce de résistance in The Americans, one of FX’s most consistently mesmerizing serial dramas, and deserves to be just as successful in multiplexes. She has a physical and emotional range that could easily crossover to Horror, and her performance as Julia in Antlers proves that hypothesis correct. Jesse Plemons is much more reserved and doesn’t get to truly compel as much as Russell, but still stands on his own and we care for him as he stands up for Jessica, Lucas and their town. Speaking of Lucas, Jeremy T. Thomas is a child actor who truly gave it his all as many others around his age have in a bevy of event Horror films in the past several years.
Antlers is no doubt a slow burn at times; its allure and thematics can recall many elevated Horror pictures from the likes of A24, etc. It however lacks the thematic depth of its promising premise, or even some of the finest Horror features in recent memory (ones directed by Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, Robert Eggers). In some ways we have more of a straight forward creature feature, but the writers sell you on the human drama and terror to maintain engagement. The climax and final act are major benefactors in ensuring that. I’m also usually not one to bemoan about specific character decisions in movies being bad because bad ones can be justified in certain cases (despite what online clickbaiters will lead you to believe), but one in particular during the second act was bizzare and cliched despite, again, suspense and atmosphere boasting the scene.
Antlers has led Scott Cooper to, yet again, fall into lukewarm reception like two of his past features have. Will it become a cult classic for Horror fans and even the most dedicated of critics? Who knows. But it was most certainly worth the investment and energy given its road to theaters. Watch it at nighttime too.
RATING: 3 out of 4 stars.