I’ve been waiting a long time to see Antlers. It was originally supposed to come out in April of 2020, and after a bunch of pandemic-related release date changes (including being taken off the schedule entirely for a short time!), it’s finally here. I was super excited when I finally got to sit down and watch this film, and although it’s not quite the triumph I was hoping for, it’s still a fun creature feature that I think fans are really going to enjoy.
Directed by Scott Cooper and starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, and Jeremy T. Thomas, Antlers is a monster movie about a young boy named Lucas who harbors a deadly secret. His father has become infected or possessed (initially, it’s not entirely clear what exactly is happening to him), so Lucas keeps him locked inside their house and brings him small animals to eat. The kid tries to hold his life together and act like nothing is wrong, but his armor begins to crack very quickly. His teacher Julia soon realizes that something isn’t right with the boy’s home life, so she tries reaching out to him to find out just what is going on.
That’s the first half of Antlers, and then at about the midway point, the film changes in some key ways. I won’t spoil it for you, so I’ll just say that the second half is a lot better. See, the first half is basically just set up for the real meat of the story. It introduces you to the characters and to what’s going on with Lucas and his father, but the plot doesn’t really move forward all that much. You see some of the same events repeat themselves over and over, and I have to admit, after a little while, I began to get a bit bored with it.
But don’t get the wrong idea. The first half of this film isn’t bad. It’s a little slow, and it drags on just a bit too long, but on the whole, I still enjoyed it a good deal. For starters, the entire cast does a really great job, so I completely bought into all the main characters. Even when the events on screen weren’t all that interesting in themselves, I still liked seeing these people go about their daily lives.
In particular, I have to give special mention to Jeremy T. Thomas, the actor who plays Lucas. He imbues the character with a perfect mix of natural childishness and forced maturity and I found that really impressive. Lucas goes about his grim responsibilities with the world-wearied poise of a tired adult, but at heart, he’s still just a kid. You can see that conflict play out on his face and in the way he carries himself so you can’t help but become emotionally invested in him right from the get-go.
On top of that, the mystery of what exactly is going on is pretty intriguing too. This first half of Antlers has some cool horror but it holds back a lot too. It plays its cards close to the chest, so you’re right there with the characters as they try to figure out what’s really happening. Then, once the second half hits, the horror truly begins to shine. For example, we finally get to see the monster in all its glory, and it’s awesome. In fact, I’d even say it’s one of the best-looking creatures I’ve seen in a while.
On top of that, this monster is pretty terrifying as well. When it attacks its victims, it’s quite brutal, and while the film is definitely not a gorefest, it can still get pretty gnarly at times. What’s more, director Scott Cooper also throws some well-earned jump scares at us, and I found them pretty effective. Admittedly, I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more horror in the film overall, but I can’t deny that I was very happy with what I got.
All that being said, Antlers is far from a perfect movie. As with any film, there are a bunch of things I could nitpick about it, but I also noticed two big flaws that kept it from reaching its full potential. First, the story tries to use Lucas’s horrific situation as a metaphor for child abuse, but it doesn’t quite work. The horror doesn’t mesh with the drama nearly as well as it should, so the metaphor just ends up feeling forced.
Secondly, the heroes defeat the monster a bit too easily in the third act. The movie builds this creature up to be a nearly unstoppable force of nature, but when the final battle comes, it shows a lot more weaknesses than I was expecting. So as much as I enjoyed it throughout the rest of the story, I was really disappointed with how easy it was to kill, and that left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth as the credits began to roll.
So like I said before, Antlers isn’t quite the absolute triumph I was hoping it might be, but I still had a good time with it, and if you’re a fan of monster movies, I think you will too. Just make sure you keep your expectations reasonable. It’s produced by Guillermo del Toro, but don’t go into it expecting to find a wealth of meaning. The film tries to be deeply metaphorical, but that element doesn’t work all that well. So if this is the big draw for you, you’re going to be disappointed.
However, if you’re just looking for an enjoyable monster movie with a really likable cast of characters, then Antlers is going to be right up your alley. It has enough fun horror to keep genre fans satisfied, and the excellent performances will hold your interest the rest of the time. It’s perfect Halloween viewing, so if you’re looking for some good new horror this weekend, I’d recommend giving this one a shot.
Antlers is out in theaters right now.
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