At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Antlers “2021”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Supernatural Horror/Stars: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan, Cody Davis, Sawyer Jones, Jake T. Roberts, Andy Thompson, Michael Eklund, Katelyn Peterson/Runtime: 99 minutes

Well I don’t know about you movie goer, but as far as giving a slice of cinema a certain title is concerned, I think the one I am reviewing for you today, 2021’s Antlers is one that in terms of title alone is tailor-made to be released around one of a pair of certain dates on the calendar. Those of course being December 25th or October 31st and honestly I’m kind of sad to see where they did wind up placing it. I mean after all now what in the world is an ambitious film helmer supposed to be able to title his new and improved take on the iconic tale of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? Jokes aside, the title for this slice of cinema does seem to be a bit of a head scratcher when it comes to film helmer Scott Cooper’s gloomy and character-rooted take on a slice of cinema rooted in supernatural terror. Yet the moment you learn that this slow and steady and placed in Oregon film is one that deals primarily with the ancient Native American creature known as the wendigo. A creature which, according to this film, is a wicked spirit that takes people over and then slowly changes them into menacing elk-horn rocking critters that happen to have a fondness for human flesh…..then it maybe kinda sorta definitely might make a bit more sense. Yet even though this slice of cinema’s helmer may seem like an odd choice for director due to not really being nailed down to a particular genre in the quintet of films (as of this writing) he has helmed, he has shown a fairly consistent degree of darkness in all of them, be it the perils of addiction in Crazy Heart or the brutal acts of violence in Black Mass to name but a couple that a horror slice of cinema is one he could definitely be seen as plausibly helming. Yet perhaps the best thing that Cooper brings to the table for this slice of terror cinema is that he understands and is able to skillfully execute the classy method to making a genuinely scary movie. What I mean by that is the best scary films aren’t just about terrifying the pants off the viewer or even drenching the screen in buckets upon buckets of blood. Rather they are the ones which examine some fairly immersive issues in the world around us and the utilize those issues as an hopefully effective slow-burn framework which then permits the opportunities for tension and dread to build and build in such a way until it must, by film law, runneth over into pure terror on a fairly significant level. Suffice it to say that perhaps the most unnerving thing about this slice of cinema isn’t the tension, the suspense, or even the moments of visceral gore that do come into play. Rather, it is how Scott Cooper really manages to insert us as movie goers into the mindset of our pair of main characters and show us how two distinct perspectives on abuse. The first being the one that is still affected by it years after it occurred. The second being the young mind in which abuse has begun to take unshakeable root in and yet still be able to affect in ways that are both grim and depressing yes, but equally as much the stuff that true nightmares are made of. Suffice it to say that yes this slice of cinema does manage to possess its fair degree of flaws, but is still at the end of the day a well-cast, well-shot, and wonderfully atmospheric little slice of cinema that will stay with you long after the credits have begun to roll.

The plot is as follows: Based on a script by no less than a trinity of writers as well as proving to be an adaptation of a story called “The Quiet Boy”, the slice of cinema known as Antlers takes us deep into the woods and places us firmly in a small town in the state of Oregon and focuses on a pair of protagonists. Those being a tiny, solemn, quiet, and tragically falling prey to bullying 12-year old young man by the name of Lucas and his dedicated yet reserved in her own right teacher Julia who we recently learn has come back home after a long period of time away and, until she can get back on her feet again, is staying with her brother Paul who is also the local sheriff in those parts. We quickly see that Julia has something of a unique interest in Lucas (no not in that way) since she feels he might not have the best home life and, being intimately familiar with what abuse can look like when it is rendered upon a child first hand, is concerned about his safety and well-being. Of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that our heroine’s worries are hardly placated by any stretch when not only does she uncover some truly eyebrow raising art that Lucas has been doodling while in class, but she also finds out that his father is the kind of guy who happens to possess a criminal record. Suffice it to say that, from the outside looking in, it really does look like all the boxes have been checked and as a result it does look like what we have here is a terrible case of abuse afoot. Of course, while it should come as no surprise to learn that our heroine’s suspicions are fairly justified, you might be surprised to learn that the case is not one which is your “run of the mill abuse case”. This is because whilst yes Lucas is living a life in a rundown home and his eating situation is one that involves catching and eating whatever he is able to he also is not looking out for just himself. This is because behind an enigmatic and locked to the gills door in the home is a vicious and enigmatic creature that, for reasons I shan’t spoil here, Lucas has been taking care of whilst desperately trying to live his life the best he can. Yet it isn’t long before things come to a head and Lucas’ secret is unearthed thus resulting in a wave of terror washing over the town and our heroine coming into conflict with a creature that may very well be one of the things that nightmares are made of…..

Now even though yes I am definitely trying to be as hazy as I can possibly be due to the feeling that I feel that this is one slice of cinema you should go into as blind as possible, I still feel that one thing that even my review seems to make clear is that there is a critter rooted in Native American folklore at the heart of this narrative, but I am going to stop there with that. However when looking at the creature on its own merits, I must confess how much I am amazed by how fleshed out (pun intended) this slice of cinema helps become and I feel a lot of the credit for that must go to a designer by the name of Guy Davis. Indeed not only is genuinely scary, but is also manages to stay fairly honest to the folklore it is rooted in. Suffice it to say that it is this phenomenal mixing of the otherworldly and realism that manages to make the design of this creature to say nothing of the creature itself truly haunting and horrific in the best way possible no matter how many times you watch this movie. With that established, I think one of the more effective components to this slice of cinema is just how good of a job Scott Cooper and his creative team are able to sculpt a group of moments that are genuinely scary and have them join up beautifully with moments that are downright saddening and heart wrenching in how they bring you smack dab into the middle of these characters’ psyches and the nightmarish situations they are immersed in. As a result, this slice of cinema really makes you feel for them even before all the monster carnage kicks into place since either what they have gone through or are going through is something no one should ever have to. Of course, I also think credit for why this slice of cinema proves to be as potent as it turns out to be is due to the terrific camerawork from Florian Hoffmeister. Indeed not only does Mr. Hoffmeister do terrific work at showcasing just how melancholic life is in this small town, but the manner in which frames shots in this really does have an incredible texture that does such a spectacular job at reinforcing the visuals in this that literally every shot in this could be one you hang in your house as a picture. Finally, I guess it’s also worth noting that yes Cooper may be a novice when it comes to making horror films, but I am also of the belief that his prior slices of cinema he has helmed actually prove to have helped him in making one like this. Indeed not only is he able to give this slice of cinema a genuine feeling that there is actually stakes for the cast of characters at the heart of this story, but he is also able to make sure that every bit of terror also has a degree of humanity thrown into the mix as well. As a result, we see while yes there is a fair bit of otherworldly in regards to this film it is also quite rooted into this narrative in a way that feels not only genuine, but realistic as well.

Now in terms of acting, it is worth pointing out that the lead characters in this do a wonderful job of supporting the thematic concepts in the narrative whilst also at the same time throwing for a curve the vibe the audience has that not only that they might get saved, but that those who look out for us are immune to the horrors being faced by those they are looking out for. Along with that, we see that this film’s helmer is willing to put his younger performers, with particular regard to Thomas who as Lucas is heart wrenchingly great, to some fairly potent moments throughout. A feat that says a lot about both his skill at coming up with moments to bring the viewer in as well as his skill at conjuring up a genuine sense of plausibility which can be seen in every film Cooper directs. As for his adult actors, we see that Keri Russell does a wonderful job as a woman who is very much wounded internally yet had slowly been opening up again only to be thrown into a situation when this boy stumbles into her life with signs of abuse that are tragically ones she knows by heart only for her to uncover that there is something far more sinister to this situation than she could have previously imagined. Suffice it to say that Russell does a wonderful job of blending together an ever-growing sense of terror alongside a tidal wave of guilt for things related to her and her brother’s past to say nothing of protectiveness towards Lucas and wanting better things for him. By the same token, this slice of cinema also gifts audiences with a wonderful performance from Jesse Plemons who is in top form in his portrayal of a guy who is sheriff in this community, but he doesn’t do because he wanted to. Rather, he does it because he feels like he owes it to the community and because his scars from childhood run just as deep as his sister’s. Indeed be it kicking a family out of their home with no emotion or trying to find the explanation for an ever-growing set of grisly murders that is the easiest to put down, Plemons does a great job at showing Paul’s pain and heartache as things he deals with by simply trying to take the easy way out on every single thing.

All in all and at the end of the day dear reader, the slice of cinema that is Antlers from film helmer Scott Cooper is one that not only has a good head about it, but also a respect and knowledge of what makes for a genuinely spooky if not downright chilling horror film that is immensely appreciated (at least by this reviewer). By that I mean this is one terror slice of cinema that is by no means extremely interested in treating its target audience to an abundance of watered down and flimsy jump scares, is a lot more invested in making the more significant moments in this slice of cinema feel paid for by mood and atmosphere instead of sudden lurches in the music or in the aforementioned jump scares, and is more than brilliant enough to free just how potent from an allegorical perspective this distinct narrative can be by wonderfully and horrifically grounding it in a collection of evil that can be, and often is, found in the world all around us on a daily basis. More than that however, this slice of cinema is also the wonderful recipient of a collection of truly riveting collection of characters played by a gifted cast and, when necessary, is most certainly not hesitant by any means to just cut loose and give the movie goer moments of visceral and quite nightmarish gore. Yes for some this slice of cinema may falter in regards to what makes it quite intriguing as it is in the final stretch, but it is thankfully reinforced with some truly potent monster-propelled horror which proves to be quite visceral and riveting. It also doesn’t hurt this film that its helmer Scott Cooper gives the whole thing a bleak and melancholic vibe throughout which in turn proves things with a spooky and chilling atmosphere that gets the ball rolling on a wide variety of blood-fueled chaos and he certainly doesn’t hold back in the moments where the creature tears people apart. Suffice it to say that for a slice of cinema that is meant to be Cooper’s first film that is intentionally a horror film, this slice of cinema may have flaws, but it does also show fairly well Cooper’s terrific skill with this distinct genre thus showing that maybe it’s one that he should try to explore even further in future cinematic endeavors. Suffice it to say that it might not be perfect, but if you are the audience for this genre then definitely give this slice of cinema especially on a rainy day. I think you might find a fair amount to enjoy here. On a scale of 1-5 I give Antlers “2021” a solid 3.5 out of 5.



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