Starring: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Amy Madigan, Graham Greene, and Rory Cochrane.
Directed By: Scott Cooper
Where I Watched it: HBO MAX
English audio Description Available?: Yes
The Plot: A teacher (Russell) enlists the help of her Sheriff brother (Plemons), when she suspects that a student in her class (Thomas) might be getting abused at home, after she finds several alarming objects in his possession. Of course, there is something far darker…more… sinister. Boo!
What Works: First, hats off to Scott Cooper, who I had no idea was directing this until I checked IMDB. For those unfamiliar with immediate name recognition, Cooper directed several solid films already, including Crazy Heart, Black Mass, and Out of The Furnace. While not known for this genre, it was interesting to see where he went with this. Not every choice do I think worked, but he elevated a film with a structure (and a villain) we’ve seen before.
Also, this film would not work without the brilliant work of the young Jeremy T Thomas, who has to sell so many conflicted emotions believably to the audience at various points. Whether he comes off as disturbed or abused, weak or strong, this is such a dynamic character with so many levels to give to a small child. honestly, of all the characters in this film, Lucas has the most range, giving Thomas more to do than heavy hitters like Plemons and Russell who are there to just further the storyline. Thomas is the heart and soul of this horror film, and he’s terrific.
Cooper does a good job of maintaining unease, from an opening sequence that lets you know that some shit is about to really go down, all the way through. It is a dark movie from start to finish, and if you thought a movie with this title might be a horror/comedy, you would be very wrong. Antlers is not a happy film, nor does it really resolve in a happily ever after way. It’s a dark film with dark themes and creature feature gore.
What Doesn’t Work: I think Cooper played his hand a bit too early. I understand why, but I can embrace what Cooper wanted to do and appreciate that, but still believing that his reveals come too early. In an attempt to really describe this as vague as possible, without spoiling too much, I will say that the film does want you to believe that either Lucas is abused or disturbed, and the entire film hinges on other characters believing that.
But Cooper shows far too early that Lucas is not in the situation you may immediately assume, and even if you don’t fully see all the way to the end of the film, its very obvious where the film is heading. It becomes clear a lot earlier in the film than it should, what role Lucas plays in the story, and why he plays it. Even though it takes the duration of the film for the other characters to solve the mystery, it would have been nice for the audience to sit there too. Cooper does such a good job of setting up many possibilities for Lucas, but they all get thrown out the window in the first act of the film, and pretty early on too.
From that point, even though I see some terrific decisions being made by Cooper, the hand has already been revealed. The only surprise at all left is defining what exactly “it” is, and Cooper trots out Graham Greene to be the token Native American to explain it all to us. Greene is a terrific actor, and has spent far too much of his career playing wise native man who explains shit to white people.
The Blind Perspective: Relax. This is one of those films where the audio description doesn’t align with the opening studio logos, and won’t begin until the movie. So, if you don’t hear someone speaking right away, give it a few seconds. He also stops right at the end, and no credits are described. However, I’ve heard this narrators voice before, and he’s one of my favorites. He’s perfect for serious films and tv shows, and fits perfectly in here. It’s hard to really describe gore, but they try. I know for a fact this film is visually a lot gorier than it might seem in the audio description.
Final Thoughts: Cooper is out of his element here, and while he really has all the makings of a terrific horror movie (albeit one featuring a very unoriginal villain), he squanders it by revealing too much too soon. There is still enjoyment to be had in watching the characters discover what you already know, some good moments to yell at the characters as they do things you know will get them killed, but the surprise is gone. Cooper is such a solid director, he avoids cheap jump scares. Maybe, there’s one, but I wouldn’t really call it cheap, but earned. And there’s a terrific child actor that is the heart of this film, despite the caliber of the cast.
Final Grade: B-