Throughout Antlers, it never once becomes apparent why filmmaker Scott Cooper wanted to make this movie. Frankly, the work itself struggles with an identity crisis. By bringing up Native American mythology in a creature feature but then barely utilizing it, Cooper and company do not just a disservice to their film, but to the potential of the subject matter. The creature itself is effectively gnarly looking and Cooper builds atmosphere very well, but it ultimately adds up to very little. Despite hints here and there of something really interesting, this winds up being something you can shrug off all too easily at the end.
Antlers is dark and dour, but it also mistakes a bleakness for a compelling narrative. Characters repeatedly do the same dumb things, but the filmmaker also stages the same sort of scene several times over, without any building up of tension or change in things. The result is a horror movie that threatens often to be boring, and that’s a shame.
After an opening sequence that sets up the monster, we’re introduced more to the small Oregon town where our protagonists live. Julia Meadows (Keri Russell) is a middle-school teacher who has recently returned home from California, while her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons) has recently been elected sheriff. They live in their old childhood home, dealing with memories of an abusive father. When Julia becomes concerned with the wellbeing of her unusual student Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas), Paul warns her that Lucas’ father Frank (Scott Haze) is a no good meth dealer and drug addict. If only they knew the half of it.
As Julia investigates Lucas, we see him on his own, except when it’s time to feed something locked away in his home. Could it be Frank? Could it be something else? According to former sheriff Warren Stokes (Graham Greene), it’s a legendary ancestral creature. Julia and Paul doubt him, but Lucas is definitely dealing with something dangerous. Once it gets out, all bets are off.
The cast is fairly unspectacular here, which is disappointing. Keri Russell has to play a character with no logical consistency, while Jesse Plemons looks very bored. If there’s a highlight, it’s how unsettling Jeremy T. Thomas manages to be. Thomas is solid, while our true leads don’t make an impact. The same goes for the aforementioned supporting players like Graham Greene and Scott Haze. Rounding out the cast are Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan, and more.
Co-writer/director Scott Cooper does a good job with the atmosphere of small town Oregon, and several shots are very creepy. It’s a shame that he also never gives his characters proper motivation and edits things in a way that clearly suggests an initial, longer, cut. His direction when focused on the monster is solid. Elsewhere? Not so much. Along with scribes Nick Antosca (who penned the short story this is based on) and Henry Chaisson, Cooper tries to layer in mythology and abuse themes to his monster movie. The script, unfortunately, is just too sloppy to make that work, abandoning and picking up those threads as it sees fit. With more focus, Antlers could have worked. As it stands? It leaves you shrugging your shoulders for most of its 100 minute or so runtime.
Antlers wants to be the next great creature feature, but to do so while being “elevated horror” in a way. It certainly has the creature, but winds up being wildly mediocre in all other regards. Long delayed, it’s not hard to see why this film sat on the shelf. Even with Halloween here, it’s not a movie that begs to be seen. It’s just destined to be forgotten about, like the mythology that looms over the flick itself. Alas.