Scott Cooper’s long awaited (and even longer delayed) Antlers is another solid horror showing for 2021, even if it isn’t the year’s strongest. It’s terrific whenever it tries to be scary or create dread and is always entertaining despite never hitting the dramatic or thematic heights it tries to reach.
Antlers focuses on members from two different families struggling with trauma involving their loved ones. Julia (Keri Russell) and Paul (Jesse Plemons) are estranged siblings who are clearly still troubled by their pasts. While rebuilding her relationship with her brother, Julia begins to suspect that a student of hers, Lucas (Jeremy T Thomas) is suffering from family-related problems as well. She resolves to help the young buy through his issues at home, and eventually uncovers the shocking, deadly, and supernatural force that is tormenting Lucas’ family.
Like I said earlier, anytime Antlers wants you to be unsettled, on edge, or flat out horrified, you are. The atmosphere crafted by Cooper and the score from Javier Navarrete are the film’s biggest strengths – along with a top tier monster design – and do outstanding work at keeping you creeped out and uncomfortable. There’s also a specific moment near the final act that had me almost jump out of my seat, and it might end up being the scariest sequence in any movie this year.
What doesn’t quite work is the relationship between Julia and Lucas, along with character depth overall. At surface level, everything is okay, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s hinted at without being explored enough to flesh out the core cast. There’s a particular line from Plemons about halfway through Antlers that feels like a vain attempt to give his character more depth than he actually had, and while Julia caring about her student makes sense, the lengths she goes to order to protect him seem way too far when compared to how little they know each other. I feel like Antlers could’ve been truly great if it had spent more time fleshing out the siblings and their backstories, or if it had not hinted at so much baggage that wasn’t going to be unpacked in a satisfactory fashion. However, Plemons and Russell are talented and likable enough to keep you engaged, and Thomas does a shockingly great job with very little dialogue during his solo scenes. I hope to see more of him in future films.
Although I felt they were worth mentioning, my gripes did little to ruin my overall appreciation of Antlers, and I would recommend it to anyone who was intrigued by the trailers. It didn’t live up to the lofty expectations I had for it, but that speaks more to me than the film itself. It’s scary, has plenty of atmosphere, and a decent enough group of main characters, so I don’t see it disappointing anybody going in with reasonable expectations.