“Antlers” is a movie about darkness. Human darkness. Supernatural darkness. Literal, low-lit filmmaking darkness. It’s a slimy, icky, violent movie that doesn’t all the time come collectively however it additionally undeniably feels prefer it has emerged from the passions of its creators, notably director Scott Cooper and producer Guillermo del Toro. Like different works of the previous, it facilities individuals on the financial fringe who carry heavy emotional weights. Like different works of the latter, it imagines a world whereby actual ache can open doorways to unimaginable horror. (One also can simply hint a number of the themes of earlier work by co-writer Nick Antosca to this venture as nicely, for all you “Channel Zero” followers.) Trauma, grief, abuse, habit—these aren’t new themes to the style and people fast to write down off the pattern of “elevated horror” will discover a lot to criticize right here, however they’d even be writing off this movie’s spectacular craft, dedicated ensemble, and notable ambition. “Antlers” could fall wanting its potential, however, I believe it should discover a fan base over time.
It feels prefer it’s been years since we first heard about Cooper’s movie, which was scheduled for an April 2020 launch and is lastly popping out 18 months later. Based mostly on Antosca’s brief story The Quiet Boy, “Antlers” takes place in a small city in Oregon, a kind of previously blue-collar community that has been devastated by financial setbacks and drug habits. Paul Meadows (Jesse Plemons) is the reticent sheriff of this nook of the world, a spot that feels prefer it was thriving technology in the past and may not exist a technology from now. Paul’s sister Julia (Keri Russell) has returned dwelling to a spot that already provoked trauma associated with her childhood and now looks as if maybe the gloomiest city on Earth.
Julia has additionally returned to an educating job, the place she takes a curiosity within the quiet child in school, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas). He’s the kind of boy that appears a bit too quiet and skittish, indicating maybe one thing could be very flawed at dwelling. Julia learns that Lucas’ mom handed not way back, leaving his father Frank (Scott Haze) to take care of him and Lucas’ brother Aiden (Sawyer Jones). Everybody suspects this can be an unhealthy dwelling dynamic, however, they do not know. Within the very efficient, tone-setting opening scene, Frank and a drug-producing colleague are attacked by … one thing. Since then, he’s been locked in his home, bodily coming aside on the seams. He’s nearly feral, a cross between a werewolf and a zombie, and Lucas simply locks his door in the evening and hopes dad doesn’t worsen. He’ll get worse.
Shot by Florian Hoffmeister (a Terence Davies collaborator on “The Deep Blue Sea” and “A Quiet Passion” in addition to a set of AMC’s “The Terror,” which has the same tone to this venture), “Antlers” is a visually assured movie. It embraces shadows in an approach that makes you lean ahead to discern the horror at the hours of darkness nook of the room however by no means to a level that feels incoherent or irritating. Cooper and Hoffmeister give the movie a placing visible language, and the enhancing by the nice Dylan Tichenor (“There Will Be Blood”) enhances the pressured POVs and disconcerting angles even additional.
If there’s a weak spot to “Antlers,” it’s simply how a lot the script appears keen to underline these themes as an alternative of the characters concerned. We by no means actually get to know any of those individuals and supporting roles performed by proficient actors like Amy Madigan and Graham Greene really feel notably underdeveloped. Russell and Plemons do a substantial amount of heavy lifting to make their roles really feel extra three-dimensional however they’re each so proficient that one needs there was a bit extra meat for them to chew on. It’s additionally a movie that may really feel monotonous in its lethal critical tone. A little bit of humor to interrupt up the kid’s torture may need helped stability it out.
Scott Cooper makes movies about damaged individuals; Guillermo del Toro has made a number of movies about damaged locations. They’re each fascinated with the darkness, and followers of their work ought to see what they’ve pulled out of it for “Antlers.”