Based on a short story by Nick Antosca, Antlers is a horror movie that’s a part of the tread of arty, dramatic horror that A24 has started.
Julia Meadows (Keri Russell) is an elementary school teacher who returns to her depressed hometown in Oregon. She suspects one of her students, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) is being abused. What Julia doesn’t realise is Lucas’ dad and brother are possessed by an ancient spirit and the 12-year-old had been caring for them.
Antlers was a film that adverted itself on the quality of the people working behind the scenes. It was produced by Searchlight Pictures which already released another arty horror film in 2021, The Night House, had Guillermo del Toro and David S. Goyer credited as producers, and it was directed by Scott Cooper.
Cooper is a serious, dramatic director, known for making films like Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, and Hostiles. So going into the horror genre was unexpected. Even though Antlers was a horror film, Cooper treated it as a serious dramatic work. He used Antlers to explore issues about child abuse, environmentalism, and the plight of small-town America.
Because of Cooper’s directional approach, Antlers came across more like a drama than a horror film. The depressed town setting and the damaged characters fitted Cooper’s MO. The town had serious issues with meth addiction and meth production. As the principal of the school states many children were homeschooled so the authorities won’t know about their parents’ illegal activities.
However, this serious approach did make Antlers a po-faced film. It was so focused on the drama that it forgot that it was meant to be a horror film. Even the most recent art-house style of horror films like Ari Aster, and The Night House, still felt like horror films because of their atmosphere. Even during Antlers’ supernatural moments, they felt more like they were filmed for a drama.
The horror elements became more prominent during the second half of the film. This was due to a gruesome transformation scene and the beast finally being released. There was some effective jump scares because of the horrific noises the monster can make, and Cooper and his writers did enough groundwork to make the audience care for the characters.
The characters had many issues which is common for the horror genre. Julia was shown to be an alcoholic because of the way she stares at bottles at the convenience store, and she has issues with her brother. Julia suspects that Lucas was being abused because of the pictures he drew, his ragged clothes, and his malnourished body. Julia could see the signs because she had a similar experience.
Environmentalism was another theme in the film. Antlers opened with a Native American narrator warning of a spirit that will be awakened if humans ruin the environment. On the radio, a newsreader makes mention of a new mining operation being conducted to revitalise the coal industry. However, outside these references, environmental issues had no bearing on the plot.
Antlers did take some ideas from other horror media. Lucas bears a lot of similarities to Oskar from Let the Right One In. Both were young boys who had been bullied at school and had troubled home lives. Antlers also had elements of Stephen King’s work because of the focus on rural settings and had young characters facing some sort of supernatural threat. Fans of King’s novels and film adaptations will probably get the most out of Antlers because they have similar tropes.
Antlers does quite not match some of the other recent arthouse horror films. However, it was a well-intended film with strong performances and attempted to approach some wealthy themes, even if some were underutilized.