Directed by Scott Cooper
Screenplay by C. Henry Chaisson, Nick Antosca, Scott Cooper, based on The Quiet Boy by Nick Antosca
Starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan
Gather round, folks. Gather round the fire. Are you comfortable? No? Good. I’m about to tell you the horrific tale of Scott Cooper’s (“Crazy Heart,” “Out of the Furnace,” “Hostiles”) “Antlers,” a lore, a myth. Only it’s horror come to life in the form of a monster, based on superstitious tales from times past.
“Antlers” takes a lonely, self-isolated child and pits him against empathy and superstition. Kerri Russell plays Julia Meadows, a schoolteacher with a troubled past. Lucas Weaver, played by Jeremy T. Thomas, is a student in her literature class. He is the type of student made fun of, a child who disassociates himself from the rest of his world, a loner.
Cooper paints a picture of a down-and-out family, something we’ve seen before, as the fear grips a few of the isolated townsfolk from a beast ravaging on the human population. The script by C. Henry Chaisson, Nick Antosca, and Cooper, based on Antosca’s 2019 short story, “The Quiet Boy,” is a creative peer into the looking glass as it reflects life choices and our station within society.
Russell does an excellent job with the material she’s given, even if many of the character’s issues remain unresolved through the script. We feel her concern for her student’s well-being, a moment reflected in a communal sharing of ice cream with Lucas. The relationship lines get blurred between Julia and her brother, Paul, played by Jesse Plemons. A significant portion of their familial relationship gets lost within the editing. While Paul is a competent policeman, he is not prepared for what awaits him. His role, just like Russell’s, is underwritten, and though he lends a solid screen presence. There was a terrific opportunity to blend the horror on the screen with the horrors of their respective pasts. Alas, sloppy editing and a lack of a middle act dupe us out of this part of the tale.
If mood and tension were the crux of “Antlers,” it would score massive points. Florian Hoffmeister’s cinematography uses familiar techniques to obscure the mountainous, desolated landscape surrounding our sleepy town, isolating our characters from their surroundings. It does a great job of enhancing the visual presence of the characters, if not the hopelessness that pervades the town. Hope, BC, stood in for this cold, occluded Oregonian town. You feel the winter chills, even as characters are walking across the screen.
Graham Greene co-stars as Warren Stokes, the former town sheriff who knows a thing or two about the . . . thing that’s invaded the town and what afflicts young Lucas’ life. Unfortunately, Greene’s character is utilitarian in nature. While his pivotal explanation about what’s happening in the movie makes up the truncated second act, you’re left with the feeling that his character could have done more. He’s such an outstanding actor, and it seems like part of his role was left on the cutting room floor.
“Antlers” runs a lean 99 minutes, and it’s just enough to raise our blood pressure from the two decent jump scares, but also in frustration of a lot of missed opportunities.
R, 99 minutes, Searchlight Pictures