Antlers might sound like the title of a holiday movie about Santa’s reindeers.
It’s also not a very scary Halloween movie which it does purport to be.
And that’s a little surprising, given that it was co-written and directed by Scott Cooper whose resume includes the Oscar winning film Crazy Heart (2009) starring Jeff Bridges.
It’s hard to imagine that the same person could be responsible for both these films.
Antlers is a downer of a movie set in an isolated Oregon town. The story touches upon mining, environmental issues and blue-collar people struggling to survive when they lose their jobs and are evicted from their homes.
Jesse Plemons is the local sheriff, trying to maintain law and order in this pocket of depression and hopelessness.
Keri Russell plays is middle-aged sister (Julia) who returns to their hometown to be a teacher at the local school. It’s not a happy place.
The presence of a malevolent force makes matters worse.
In the opening reel, two men are visciously attacked in a dark, creepy mine that we’ve seen so many times in movies like this. In classic horror style, we only see brief flashes of the creature, enough to know that it is terrifying.
The events in the mine impact a shy, frail little boy who is in Julia’s class. His father was one of the victims of the attack.
Opening credit information informs us that, according to native American folklore, the creature we are about to encounter is nature’s revenge for mankind’s mistreatment of the planet.
It’s a familiar theme in horror/science fiction movies. The biggest example might be Godzilla. There are many others.
The common theme is that you don’t want to endanger the Earth or piss off Mother Nature. Dire consequences will follow.
Antlers never really develops that theme, on a larger scale. Instead, it is content to just create a local monster that terrorizes townspeople who are already a little beaten down.
It’s a dark tale with some nasty little secrets. Some revolve around child abuse, a common theme here.
Others involve a twisted sense of family ties and family loyalty that extends to your father and younger brother even after they have become flesh eating creatures who live behind a locked door in your upstairs bedroom.
That’s Lucas’s dilemma. And it’s a chilling, disturbing premise that could be terrifying if it wasn’t so blatantly ludicrous.
Here’s a skinny little boy who routinely provides raw meat to ravenous relatives who look like they escaped from another dimension. He has no normal parents or family and somehow manages to live in a vacant house that would seem to lack power or running water.
Give that some thought. The stench of the things that he’s dragged back to the house is so bad that people investigating the place later in the film gag and can barely breathe upon entering. Yet Lucas trots off and spends his days in a classroom where no one notices the foul stench that must saturate his clothing.
That aside, he often spends his time sketching some pretty nightmarish drawings during class. It’s a waving red flag that initially, no one notices or seems to care about.
It’s all pretty improbable. To his credit, Jeremy T. Thomas does his very best portraying Lucas. In his defense, he didn’t create the character or write the script.
The storyline of Antlers is exactly what you might expect. Brainless people do stupid things. And pay for it with their lives. In grotesque fashion.
Why anyone would go into a spooky dark house or cave without any kind of backup or support is beyond me. Characters do it all the time in movies like this. It’s become a cliché.
What Antlers counts on is a reaction to the gory CSI-type bodies and carcasses that are depicted in detail. Get ready for exposed bloody rib cages, entrails and gobs of guts.
Yes, there are creature effects, but sadly, they are the type that we saw way back in 1980s-era werewolf movies. Scary then. Not so scary now.
Movies like this usually lack a first-rate director or first-rate talent. But Antlers has both, and that includes a cameo from veteran Native American actor Graham Greene. Unfortunately, they do not make up for the predictable story elements that we’ve seen done to death.
Having said that, I will admit jumping out of my seat when one of the characters is violently and suddenly attacked from behind.
I should have seen it coming. I almost felt ashamed for getting sucked in. But it worked. It was the one, cheap shot, but scary moment in the movie.
Other than that, Antlers doesn’t have much to offer.
Horror is a tough genre. You can perhaps count the really great horror films on one hand.
There have been many misfires over the years. As evidenced in Antlers, even people with a ton of talent can fail to get it right.
Antlers opens in theaters October 29.