A good horror film should do one thing and one thing only: scare you. Whether that is using the paranormal, the inner evil of humanity or a combination of both, the reason we make our way to the cinema to sit down with our popcorn and ludicrously large drinks is to hope that something may terrify us enough that we shower our neighbours with said snacks. Simply put, Antlers never got close to such an achievement.
Directed by Scott Cooper with Guillermo Del Toro signed on as producer, the premise of Antlers had, admittedly, gotten me very excited. With a pure artiste on the books like Del Toro, the chances are that a tale about a mythical deer-like beast is here to rid humanity of its impurity by trampling, gorging and eating the inhabitants of a small logging town in Oregon is always set to deliver. However, Antlers is, by and large, just a bit dull.
Let’s get the first matter out of the way; there are very few actual scares in the film. If you’re heading to the cinema this Halloween with hopes of proverbially filling your underpants, then this film is not for you. Sure, it has plenty of creeping atmosphere, a fair amount of corn syrup gore and Jeremy T. Thomas’ exemplary portrayal of Lucas, the young boy with a secret monster inhabiting his father, is chilling to some degree. But, in truth, there is an inescapable lethargy to the film that feels both ponderous and without nourishment.
Set in a rural Oregon town, the story revolves around Lucas and his teacher Julia, played by Keri Russell. A victim of horrific childhood abuse, Julia notices Lucas’s malnourishment and disturbing art as reasons to be worried about his safety. As she continues to pursue the child’s welfare, he recoils, clearly unhappy to invite Julia into his life and, more so, into his home. As Lucas continues to bring dead animals into his home and the people around him keep disappearing, it soon becomes apparent that something is very wrong.
Of course, we know all this from the very first scene as Lucas’ father and brother disturb something in the mine of the rural town while cooking meth. Using Native American mythology and folklore, Antlers attempts to hold a mirror up to the audience. It is quickly confirmed that the titular beast is here to wipe the inhumane humanity off the planet. One huge issue in the film is this glaringly obvious juxtaposition.
On the one hand, Cooper and his team are trying to make a very clear point, using dialogue to outright explain the reason for the creature’s return and ensuring the audience is well aware of the nugget at the heart of the story — don’t mess with nature. However, on the other hand, the film’s use of Native American lore is belied by its lack of First Nation characters. It’s a grave error that leaves the necessary message feeling both garbled and garish, like a drunk man warning you about the dangers of alcohol, spitting and slurring along the way.
To call Antlers a horror movie would be some severe miscategorisation. Aside from the blood, the beast and the odd moment of vibrant violence, the film more closely resembles a drama. But, in reality, it’s a little further away from that too. None of the few themes contained within the movie are truly explored, not the environmental damage caused by humans, the abusive damage caused by parents or the need to respect the traditions of our forefathers. It leaves the film feeling empty.
While Antlers won’t be the worst film out this Halloween weekend, it has committed a most heinous sin — it didn’t make me scream. Not one bit.
Antlers opens at cinemas across the UK on Friday 29th October.