Somewhere deep in the Oregonian woods, a creature lurks. The origins of the beast are not known, though a retired sheriff suspects it to be ancient and long-dormant. Why it decided to show up in 2019 is anybody’s guess, but now it’s up to brother and sister Julia (Keri Russell) and Paul (Jesse Plemons) to do something about it.
Antlers, from director Scott Cooper, is a swirl of problems. The small town the story takes place in is dying on the vine, and not even Trump-era EPA policies will bring it back to life. The mines have been quiet for years and are the perfect place for Frank Weaver (Scott Haze) to cook meth. Perfect, until the creature shows up.
Depressed income, meth, and opioids aren’t the only problems the town has: Frank’s youngest son, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), is clearly troubled, but no one seems to want to do anything about it. No one, except Julia—who has suffered abuse in her past and sees it in Lucas’ story of a family of bears. She’s teaching the class about myths, fables, and fairy tales, hoping that it’ll get kids like Lucas to express something they can’t put into words. And when he does, she misinterprets the metaphor.
Or maybe she doesn’t. Maybe the movie lets her down, because as Cooper and screenwriters Henry Chaisson and Nick Antosca later reveal, Lucas’ father isn’t abusing him; he’s protecting him. Even as he’s losing his faculties, he’s lucid enough to create a barrier to protect his son from himself. And abuse isn’t the only metaphor floating around Antlers that doesn’t work. It seems in poor taste that Sheriff Stokes (Graham Greene) shows up just to tell Julia and Paul about the native origins of the creature. Not that they learn anything about the creature they don’t already know or can put to use. I guess Cooper and company just wanted that scene in there to give the movie a folk edge? An anti-occupation angle? A the-sins-of-the-father sort of slant? Your guess is as good as mine.
Antlers is a movie of non-action. When Julia tells Paul she’s worried about Lucas, he tells her to do nothing. When Julia tells the school principal (Amy Madigan) that Lucas is being abused, the principal tells her the options of intervention are limited. When bodies start turning up gutted and worse, Paul tells Julia to hang tight until a search warrant is issued. Then when it comes time for the scary stuff, everyone walks slowly toward doom until you just want to scream. I understand being cautious but come on. In real life, people act impulsively, are quick to jump to conclusions, and make all sorts of rash decisions. Here, Paul keeps telling everyone to calm down and think logically as illogical things start happening. Anyone with half a brain can see he doesn’t have a clue as to what’s going on. I doubt that would calm the residents any. If anything, they would panic and take the law into their own hands. And in 2019, when Antlers is set, back when it seems like the country was constantly panicking about this thing or that, a mysterious creature gruesomely slaying random citizens in the backwoods of Oregon would have produced a fever pitch of hysterics, not a slow simmer of confusion and perplexity. An un-scary scary movie is a disappointment. A boring movie is even worse.
Directed by Scott Cooper
Written by Nick Antosca, Scott Cooper, Henry Chaisson
Based on the short story “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca
Produced by J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro, David S. Goyer
Starring: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Amy Madigan
Searchlight Pictures, Rated R, Running time 99 minutes, Opens Oct. 29, 2021.