Antlers Review: A Painfully Predictable & Mediocre Affair
It’s an incontestable fact that horror remains a largely awkward and tricky genre to tackle. Incompetent filmmakers will struggle to stay afloat in a sea of mediocrity, while an exceptional few will prosper and bloom into the film industry. The recent years alone have witnessed the emergence of horror titans such as Robert Eggers, Ari Aster, and Jordan Peele, filmmakers who have revitalized and injected new life into an otherwise declining genre. The awe-inspiring talent of such virtuoso directors does very little to support the case of films like Antlers(2021), which remains yet another promising but ultimately hackneyed and confusing horror film.
There was minute yet significant interest roused when Scott Cooper was set to helm Antlers. The filmmaker, known for his brooding, intricate body of work, and endowed with his atmospheric flair, seemed like a befitting talent to craft a small-town monster horror. What should’ve been an effortlessly unnerving film is a potpourri of cluttered tropes, threadbare characters, horror truisms by the dozen, and simply put, a flimsy narrative that never takes flight. Set in a rustic Oregon, the film’s primary protagonists are Julia (Keri Russell), an inquisitive schoolteacher, and her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), who recently took on the mantle of the local sheriff. The film initially hints at and gradually reveals the repressed childhood trauma the siblings endured at the hands of their father. There’s also the clandestine and psychologically bottled up child, Lucas, a student of Julia who’s suppressing a sinister secret.
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As the townspeople grapple with a grotesque and vicious series of deaths, the responsibility to eradicate this ominous, supernatural threat rests squarely on the collective shoulders of Julia and Paul. While Antlers employs this premise in hopes of producing a macabre, violent, and psychologically tormenting horror, the result is a feeble caricature, serving as nothing more than a forcibly stretched version of its enticing and intriguing trailers. Touted as one of the first films to suitably delve into and unearth the Wendigo mythology, Antlers is a pitiful, formulaic, and insipid horror that’s devoid of the very bone chilling soul it so ostensibly possessed. What could’ve been a terrific, enigmatic monster film is betrayed by its asinine screenplay, sprinkled with such utterly ludicrous lines and contrivances, it simply numbs the mind.
It’s an outright shame since Cooper is an accomplished filmmaker, and his past films have been an intriguing medley of gruesome imagery accompanied with a palpable sense of dread. But Antlers is a clumsy addition to Cooper’s otherwise respectable body of work. It is a film so deficient in compelling characters, nifty scares and a general rationality in its proceedings, it never touches the exhilarating heights as some of the greatest horrors do, only brushing past the clouds and spiraling downwards, when it could have soared instead. A critical pitfall of the film is also how seriously it takes itself. For a textbook small-town monster film with a run-of-the-mill narrative spine, Antlers is shockingly morbid and too certain of itself.
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In all fairness, when your film boasts a generic, terrorizing, VFX-burdened creature, there’s only so much you can coerce an audience into disbelieving. Therefore, Antlers finds itself in an upsetting predicament. When answers gleam so vividly before the protagonists, and they continue acting reckless and foolhardy, their sheer buffoonery becomes harder to believe than a ghastly mythological creature on the loose. When anxious forensic scientists confess that they haven’t seen such body lacerations before, an officer dismisses it. When there’s clearly something amiss in a seedy, abandoned home, and yet a character fearlessly steps into the abode. Antlers is riddled with such incongruous and plainly illogical moments, relying more on the idiocy of its characters than on the plot itself.
Kerri Russell in Antlers. (Credits: Fox Searchlight Pictures)
While there were some minuscule flourishes of promise, Antlers is a second-rate, done-to-death horror film which is ultimately bogged down by banal action, a lamentably mediocre screenplay, and a stale ending which is as every bit as elusive as it is inane.
It’s also worth mentioning how excruciatingly unsubtle Antlers is, feeding every ounce of information to its audiences through glaringly obvious visual cues (if a character was a struggling alcoholic in the past, we could have had finer moments to emphasize this fact, as opposed to them standing ominously in a grocery store staring at vodka bottles while dramatic music blares).
Antlers possess a sparse plot and it certainly shows as the film unravels. However, what comes as an even greater shock is the tasteless and uninspired direction behind the camera. A film like Antlers necessitates a terrific symphony of talent working in unison to create something truly remarkable but Antlers lacks too many moving parts to make a story like this work. The result is a limping mess that never lives up to the awe-inspiring promise of its trailers.
Antlers is now streaming on Hotstar.
Watch the trailer here.
Author Biographical Note: The author is currently pursuing a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Jai Hind College, Mumbai. He is currently working for Explore Screen: The Cognitive Dialogue in the capacity of an intern.
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