Every now and then, a film comes along that I adore straight away. When that happens, I know that it is a film that I’d watch over and over again and would still be see something different with each viewing. This happened to me this weekend when I sat down to watch director Scott Cooper’s brand-new film Antlers.
I am not going to say that Antlers is an easy viewing, it’s not. It is intense in its confronting themes, storylines, and graphic violence. It does feel weird that the director of amazing films like Crazy Heart and Get Low has made a confronting horror film. But he has, and I found it to be one of the best horror films I have seen in over the past few years.
Set in a small, slowly dying town in Oregon, Antlers begins with young Aiden Weaver (Sawyer Jones)being attacked alongside his father Frank Weaver (Scott Haze), by a creature at his father’s meth lab.
From there, we then see Frank’s other son Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) who is struggling in school, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teacher, Julia Meadows (Keri Russell). A victim of abuse herself, Julia has returned to the town to mend the relationship with her brother, local Sherriff Paul Meadows (Jesse Plemons), whom she feels despises her because she left him alone with their abusive father.
As Julia begins to reach out and help Lucas, she begins to identify him as an abused child unaware that the actual horror that he is enduring. As she does this, she is forced to confront the abuse that she herself suffered, while also trying to make Paul and her boss, Ellen Booth (Amy Madigan), interested in wanting to explore what is happening to Lucas.
It feels strange to say this about a horror film, but I found a true beauty in this film. Director Scott Cooper does everything possible to make this film a cinematic experience. He, along with his cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, deliver some beautiful landscapes of the supposed Oregon scenery (it is actually British Columbia). Their shots, which nearly always consist of overcast grey skies, rain and mist, bring a bleakness to the film that matches the dark events and times that the town itself is going through.
I found that the atmosphere these shots create add to the natural feeling that Cooper creates with this film. In a way nature is the basis of Antlers, the horror itself is taken directly from Amerindian mythology, and as the screenplay (which is co-written by Scott Cooper, Henry Chaisson and Nick Antosca) explores that horror, it also depicts some terrifying real-world ordeals in a truly natural way.
There is one point in this film where Paul is confronted with a truly horrific scene and instead of being a Hollywood stereotypical Sheriff who leaps from his car shooting from his hip, he sits in his car mumbling under his breath unsure what to do. I remember at this point that it hit me on just how natural and real to life that Cooper has made this film. I am surprised that more horror filmmakers haven’t realised making your horror feel real just further enhances the suspense that a film can carry. I’ll be honest, this film totally engrossed me, and I found myself on the edge of my seat more times than I did through some films that have worked even harder to create a true atmosphere of suspense.
That natural feeling also flows into the performances of the cast. Keri Russell is amazing as she portrays a concerned teacher dealing with the impact of the abuse in her own life, while trying to actively help one of her students. She is well paired with Plemons who plays her on-screen sibling, going through his own journey as a Sheriff completely out of his depth as he watches the town that he loves, yet craves to escape, fall into its own hell of despair and lost souls.
Then there is young Jeremy T. Thomas. Cooper calls for a lot from Thomas as an actor. He is in some horrific and graphic scenes that a kid so young wouldn’t even be able to watch, and he does an amazing job. At times Thomas must carry the film as its central character and he does without missing a beat. This has to be one of the best child actor performances of 2021. He is a certain star of the future.
I found Antlers to be one of the best films of 2021. In fact, I would say that this is one of the best horror films of this decade. A brilliantly natural screenplay that explores mythology and real-life horror in a graphic-yet-realistic way, which only enhances the beautifully bleak atmosphere created by the film’s visual landscape. Antlers is a stunning horror that I can’t wait to revisit again.