Horror has seen a dip in original quality in recent years. “Antlers” is an attempt to return to a time when horror movies played on original fears.
The film, directed by Scott Cooper, stars Kerri Russell as Julia Meadows, a teacher in rural Oregon, as she attempts to bond with one of her students who begins displaying alarming behavior after a traumatic and mysterious incident. She is initially dismissed by both her principal and her brother, portrayed by Jesse Plemons, who is also the sheriff of the town, but she persists in investigating her student’s strange habits. As she delves deeper into the mystery, she begins to discover the crisis affecting her student is far more sinister than she could have imagined.
In addition to Cooper’s direction, the film is produced by noted horror giant Guillermo del Toro and it shows. Del Toro’s touch is evident on any film he works on, but “Antlers” has a special adjustment. The careful worldbulding is done differently here, mainly because the film isn’t technically a fantasy film like many of Del Toro’s other works. It’s more a realist step into a worldly horror scenario.
Horror movies, in general, need to have two elements to be successful artistically: they need to be referential, and they need to play on rational fears. “Antlers” does a great job in both of these areas. The title of the film is already a neat nod to one-word horror titles, but the actual content of the film is also a call back to many films where someone is wandering in the woods and they are hunted by some kind of creature.
The film also plays on rational fears. Without spoiling the movies, the film obviously plays on fears of the unknown, fears of mysterious forces beyond our control. These are human fears as old as human civilization itself. The film also plays on themes of losing oneself to something out of their control like addiction or disease. This plays back into the referential theme, nodding to movies like “The Thing” or “The Fly.”
Another element that can be quite terrifying that “Antlers” tackles is the idea that small pain can open up the path to unspeakable damage and fear if one is not careful. Obviously, this is not a new idea in horror but in a world where capitalism can often put its mark on fast-produced horror movies, taking time to touch on themes is a refreshing change.
The cinematography in “Antlers” is incredibly deliberate. The way shadows are filmed in horror movies is something of a controversial topic because the cliché choice is that the spooky monster is waiting in the shadows. This film throws that out the window. There’s never a moment that feels unnerving without a payoff. The cinematographic language Cooper and the director of cinematography Florian Hoffmeister employ in “Antlers” feels like a new way to present grey and shadowy sets.
“Antlers” is a film that may not garner any intense awards in its time but for years to come, the film will have a dedicated fan base like many movies Guillermo del Toro has worked. “Antlers” receives an A rating.