Antlers (2021)


Keri Russell stars as a rural Oregon middle-school teacher who grows concerned for a troubled child (Jeremy T. Thomas) who exhibits signs of domestic abuse. But the boy’s reality is far worse than she suspects. With the help of her sheriff brother (Jesse Plemons), she discovers the boy’s family is somehow connected with mythic, supernatural monster that begins preying on the town.

Antlers delivers moderately well as a monster movie, with a couple of good suspense sequences and select moments of visceral shock. The cast is solid, with young Jeremy T. Thomas giving a very moving performance as Lucas, the battered boy who resorts to self-harm while literally holding monsters at bay. The mist-filled mountains of Oregon makes for a terrific backdrop, too. Those mountains and Thomas’s performance are plenty enough to create a sublimely melancholy atmosphere, but writer/director Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace) goes further. Too far. He and his co-screenwriters heap on a heavily disturbing — and ultimately unnecessary — backstory for Russell’s character and a bullying subplot for Thomas. Combined with Javier Navarrete’s redundantly somber music, Antlers becomes a true black hole of despair — one of the most depressing movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Sometimes it’s good to sophisticate the traditional monster movie, but Antlers doesn’t seem to benefit from its psychological underpinnings, or its heavy-handed treatment of themes like childhood abuse and environmentalism. If just one character were strong and secure, or perhaps if Navarrete scored the action instead of the emotion, Antlers would invite repeat viewings for monster movie fans. As it is, it’s just too heavy for seconds.

With great actors Amy Madigan and Graham Greene in thankless supporting roles.