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Antlers Movie Review

Antlers (2021) movie poster Antlers

Theatrical Release: October 29, 2021

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: R

Director: Scott Cooper

Writers: Henry Chaisson, Nick Antosca, Scott Cooper

Cast: Keri Russell (Julia Meadows), Jesse Plemons (Paul Meadows), Jeremy T. Thomas (Lucas Weaver), Graham Greene (Warren Stokes), Scott Haze (Frank Weaver), Rory Cochrane (Daniel Lecroy), Amy Madigan (Principal Ellen Booth), Sawyer Jones (Aiden Weaver), Cody Davis (Clint Owens)


It's hard to figure out where exactly Scott Cooper fits in Hollywood. Cooper's directorial debut, Crazy Heart (2009), won two Academy Awards but that recognition was narrowly focused on its original music and the enduring career of leading man Jeff Bridges. Cooper's follow-up efforts have attracted respected,
in-demand actors including Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, and Rosamund Pike, but none of them have reached a high level of commercial success or critical approval. Cooper's biggest directing gig to date has been Black Mass (2015), a crime drama that in an earlier time would have been a box office smash and awards contender for Warner Bros. Pictures and Johnny Depp, but which again merely landed on the edge of mainstream acceptance.

Cooper's latest work, his fifth feature as writer and director, does nothing to find a suitable niche for the filmmaker. In fact, despite its promising trailers and the seal of approval that comes from having Guillermo del Toro as producer, Antlers proves to be Cooper's least satisfying effort to date by a wide margin. This horror film opens in the fall and hails from Searchlight Pictures, creating expectations of a project with some clout. And yet, after an unsettling opening, Antlers proves to be a massive letdown, a painfully slow, broody mystery that does nothing of meaning with the many interesting ideas it introduces.

The film stars Keri Russell as Julia Meadows, a quietly tormented grade school teacher who has recently relocated to small town Oregon, where she is living in the house of her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), a police officer. Something appears to be off with one of Julia's students, the quiet and bullied Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas). We have a moderately better understanding of Lucas' discomforting home life with his brother Aiden (Sawyer Jones) and their ne'er-do-well father (Scott Haze). It's a dark and deadly existence, one which the screenplay by Cooper, newcomer Henry Chaisson, and "Brand New Cherry Flavor" showrunner Nick Antosca is in no rush whatsoever to make sense of.

Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, and Keri Russell take a walk down a hall in Scott Cooper's "Antlers."

Antlers presents seeds of numerous ideas. There is the familial trauma that wreaked hell on Julia and Paul and continues to create distance between them.
Desperation, poverty, and addiction issues hang over Lucas and Aiden's father. There is the mythology of the Wendigo, folklore that is traced back to indigenous peoples of Canada and raised as a legitimate explanation by a retired sheriff (Graham Greene). In light of the title, the growing number of impossibly decimated human remains found, and del Toro's propensity for creepy supernatural entities, you're right to put more stock in the sheriff's theory than Paul does.

Alas, Antlers proves to be beyond frustrating in where it takes you after throwing all these different ideas at you. The destination is the dullest of horror, the kind with banal jump scares and twists that don't even slightly add up. You expect Plemons choosing this project over surely many other offers in between acting for the likes of Martin Scorsese and Charlie Kaufman would indicate some value here beyond your run-of-the-mill horror B movie. But that value is impossible to find and even just looking for it is a thoroughly unrewarding exercise.

Anytime del Toro's name is used to promote something, I take an opportunity to look over his filmography yet again and try to understand how he carries the prestige he long has. It always comes back to Pan's Labyrinth and my opinion that it is among the most wildly overrated works of this century. Without an appreciation for that 2006 award winner, his resume falls short of the respect he commands, even acknowledging the considerable achievements of his 2017 Best Picture winner The Shape of Water. One can only hope his next film as writer-director -- December's Nightmare Alley -- gives us something more interesting to reflect upon than his inexplicably spotty track record.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Last Night in Soho The French Dispatch No Time to Die
Directed by Scott Cooper: Black Mass | Jesse Plemons: The Irishman Game Night | Starring Keri Russell: Dark Skies

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Reviewed October 28, 2021.

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