Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 39 minutes, Director – Scott Cooper
A teacher (Keri Russell) begins to investigate an isolated student (Jeremy T. Thomas) when his classwork becomes increasingly dark, reminding her of familial abuse in her past.
There’s a lot of director Scott Cooper’s Antlers which is concerned with the re-emergence of the past. Over the course of the 99 minute run-time we see a handful of characters face the demons, sometimes literally, which have held them back for times ranging from weeks to years. Predominantly we focus on quiet twelve-year-old Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas). An isolated student whose increasingly dark classwork begins to concern his new teacher Julia (Keri Russell). Julia has moved back to the quiet Oregon town in which she grew up, living with her sheriff brother Paul (Jesse Plemons). Lucas’ work reminds her of the abuse she suffered from her father as a child. Occasional hints and beats throw back to this demonstrating the trauma that she went through in the exact same walls in which she finds herself living again now. She feels trapped in by them, much like Lucas does in the darkened room that he’s confined to. Crouched in the opposite corner to a door with the same number of locks that would take a ‘funny-not-funny’ amount of time to unlock in a comedic context, he scribbles by the light of his torch while an unseen figure crashes, scratches and roars all around him.
Particularly when dwelling on the ideas and themes of abuse Antlers often feels more like an emotional drama rather than focusing on the darkness of the horror. The overall tone feels slightly muddled, only truly choosing one – the horror – when it comes to the third act. The horror certainly seems to fit the piece better, however when the emotional elements are almost completely dropped in exchange there’s a slightly odd feeling overall. Different to that which has been lying over the film beforehand, slightly preventing the viewer from forming a proper connection with the piece and the characters within it. Characters who we jump back and forth between as they deal with their pasts or myths and fables of the past – an early scene in the school sets this up by discussing just what stories are – each almost telling a different story, or one pausing the main narrative to sidetrack to them not quite observing the main narrative, so that the film begins to feel somewhat lengthy.
Over time the film gradually builds up characters, trying to add more detail to some side characters who pop up every now and then. Plemons sheriff is one figure who the writers attempt to give more prominence to, however he feels underserved and therefore the actor has little to deal with when he is on screen. It gets to the point where the core antagonistic force even feels underserved and with little screen time. To the point where the titular reference of the film almost feels like a spoiler due to how late into the run-time it appears – although even after this we don’t see much development or action from the titular CG antlers. Instead we get further mystery and flashbacks to look at Lucas’ past and his family relationship – it appears that he almost lives alone, aside from the potential creatures on the upper floor, although it’s only known that his mother passed away a number of years ago.
Things tangle and twist and manage to build up the rough, if not completely detailed, plot of the film. However, with seemingly so many elements, most of which feel underdeveloped, there’s little room for engagement and connection with the film, leaving the viewer stuck outside of it, feeling fairly distanced. Even as the horror takes more centre stage and a barrier is slightly removed it’s still difficult to properly feel a part of the unfolding events as the scares don’t really add up to much and it all feels to have been done a little too late in the piece. While being emotionally rooted in various pasts and fables, Antlers spends little time properly creating scares and progressing the narrative in the present.
Part emotional drama, part dark horror. There’s a confliction of tones within Antlers, not helped by the confliction of characters and underdeveloped focuses which removes from the main horror force which should be more towards the centre of the piece.