James Jay Edwards reviews Antlers, a supernatural horror film directed by Scott Cooper and produced by Guillermo del Toro. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
With movies like Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, and Hostiles on his resume, director Scott Cooper is not usually thought of as a horror filmmaker. But producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) can bring out the horror in anyone. Cooper and del Toro have teamed up for the horrifying Antlers.
Antlers is about a schoolteacher named Julia Meadows (Felicity’s Keri Russell) who returns to her hometown in Oregon to live with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons from Friday Night Lights), who also happens to be the town sheriff. One of her students is an introverted little boy named Lucas (Paradise Lost’s Jeremy T. Thomas) whom she suspects may be a victim of abuse. When she pries into his home life, the truth is far more terrifying.
Oh, and there’s a monster. A Wendigo, to be exact, but the reveal of that is best left to the movie.
(Antlers, theatrical release poster, courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)
The partnership between Cooper and del Toro looks like a perfect marriage. Cooper’s dark and dismal aesthetic works perfectly with del Toro’s fantastical bend. The screenplay, adapted by Cooper and Henry Chaisson (The Anniversary, Breaker Breaker) from the short story “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca, is a slick combination of a family drama and a monster movie, which plays into del Toro’s universe splendidly.
As a monster movie, Antlers is both terrific and terrifying. Like most of del Toro movies, it’s got a great creature, and one that fits in perfectly with Cooper’s downtrodden filmic style. There’s enough mystery surrounding the monster to let the audience almost talk itself out of the fact that they are, in fact, watching a horror flick, but rest assured, by the end, Antlers makes it clear that you’re supposed to be scared. It’s a great creature feature.
(Antlers, photos by Kimberley French, courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)
As a family drama, however, it’s a bit undercooked. What Julia suspects is happening with Lucas at home is a trigger for her, so of course she wants to help the child. But her history – and therefore, her motivations – are never made crystal clear, so the audience is left wondering why this teacher would risk life and limb for one of her students who, frankly, doesn’t seem to want the help. Antlers has a running time of 97 minutes, which is short by both Cooper and del Toro standards, so these elements could have been fleshed out a little better without bloating the length up too badly. It’s a missed opportunity for an emotional connection with the audience.
Antlers is not a failure of a movie. Not by a long shot. It’s just not as effective as it could be. Again, the horror aspects stand out, while the human aspects stand back. And that assessment probably makes it sound a lot worse than it is, but that’s only because the bar was set so high by the Cooper-del Toro team up. Antlers is a horror movie, and for what it is – a horror movie – it’s great.
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Will Scott Cooper go down as one of the Masters of Horror? Time will tell. But one gets the feeling from Antlers that he’s just dabbling in the genre before he goes back to making his “real” movies. Spielberg had Jaws, Donner had The Omen, Zemeckis had What Lies Beneath – and Cooper has Antlers. Even if he never makes another horror movie, Scott Cooper has at least, with Guillermo del Toro’s help, scared moviegoers once.
Antlers is now playing in theaters.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.