Grief, abuse, and loss are topics that can use horror as their vehicle for delivering their message, see Searchlight’s own “The Night House” from earlier this year, but a film as messy and facing an identity crisis like “Antlers” was perhaps not the best choice. Good performances can’t make up for a film that struggles between being a small-town mystery, heartfelt drama, or a horror flick.
Taking place in a small town in Oregon, a middle-school teacher, Julia (Keri Russell), and her sheriff brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), begin uncovering a mystery behind her student (Jeremy T. Thomas) and his family.
Maybe if the film had focused more on the small-town aspects of the film it would have been more interesting. This small town in Oregon looks similar to the one in “First Blood,” but the only real scenes that utilize the environment are the ones with Keri Russell in the convenience store. “Fargo” is another film that has used small-town dynamics to enhance a mystery, and “Antlers” could have taken a similar approach with its mysteries revolving around missing people.
Both Julia and Paul were abused as children; with it being more obvious in the case of Julia, who suffers flashbacks on a few occasions. It is more implied on Paul’s end when he says something like “You have no idea what Dad did to me.” This isn’t a cry for more abuse shown in the film, but these characters had a way of connecting with Lucas. I’d trade a heart-to-heart over a CGI fight in the third act in the case of “Antlers.”
As said, the performances are not an issue. Jesse Plemons is one of the hardest-working actors in the industry and is as reliable as anyone for a good performance. But he and Keri Russell are both reliable, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they stand out. Both have their moments, but it’s Jeremy T. Thomas who really stood out. He plays Lucas, the 12-year-old kid that most of the film centers around. While I’m sure he is an absolutely pleasant kid in real life, there is something about his performance in “Antlers” that will send chills down your spine. It’s Milly Shapiro in “Hereditary”; absolutely horrifying.
Above all else, the biggest flaw that “Antlers” has outside of its identity crisis is the fact that it sets up a sequel that very few will be dying to see. While a sequel isn’t greenlit at the time of this review, they left the door open for a continuation. That is a good thing to do if you hope to make a franchise, but can “Antlers” really have a sequel without it just copying the formula from the first one? “Antlers'” third act as a whole aside from the twist is prolonged and a mess. Maybe it was just the screening room, but the volume of the jump scares felt so much louder than usual, literally rumbling the seats. Considering most of the final act is loud sounds made by the creature, you can imagine it was not the most pleasant experience. On top of that, the action was borderline gratuitous, very gory, and brutal. That isn’t as much of a complaint as it is a caution for those who may watch the film. If it was more focused, “Antlers” could actually be a pretty creepy horror flick that is perfect for the Halloween season, but instead, it’s a kickstarter for a hopeful franchise that no one wants to grab by the horns (or antlers).
“Antlers” opens in theatres October 29.