By Daniel Multz
Boston University News Service
There are two main types of horror movies today: the kind filled with jump scares that try and succeed in terrifying audiences while distracting from the story, and the kind that keeps the audience engaged in slow suspense during the film, leaving them creeped out and uneasy. 2021’s “Antlers” fits into the latter category.
“Antlers” brings great acting, a sad and slow-developing plot that keeps the viewer engaged, a couple of well-timed and authentic jump scares and a constant feeling of unease. However, the film becomes decreasingly scary throughout as it employs twists on the very fairy tales it incorporates that are not new, and the viewer almost knows how the film will eventually end.
After Frank Weaver and his accomplice, Kenny, are attacked and then disappear in an abandoned mine, Weaver’s younger son, Aiden, enters the mine to try and find him before also disappearing. The film then follows the stories of 12-year-old Lucas Weaver, Frank’s older son, and his teacher, Julia Meadows, who lives with her brother Paul.
Throughout the film, Lucas gives off the appearance of a quiet and shy kid while carrying a secret that he keeps locked in the attic of his home. His father and brother become possessed by an evil Algonquin spirit, known as the Wendigo, living in the mine and have to be kept locked away so they don’t kill everyone in their town.
Julia leans on the abuse she suffered as a child to notice Lucas behaving the same way. She spends the film trying to learn about his secret and helping him kill the spirit so that he can detach from the burden that secret carries and live a normal life again.
The film has clear pros and cons. While beautiful visuals, creepy music and authentic mystery dominate the first half, those elements eventually fade away into a typical and scare-free monster movie. The monster escapes from where it is kept, wreaks havoc on the town and the two main characters come together to kill it at the end of the film.
In the first half-hour of the film, many questions about Lucas and Julia (played by Jeremy T. Thomas and Keri Russell, respectively) are raised. For instance, what killed Lucas’ father, why is Lucas killing animals and what is behind the locked door in Lucas’s house?
At the same time, Julia’s scenes beg questions such as why there is tension between her and her brother Paul (played by Jesse Plemons), what trauma she suffered when she was younger and why she is especially concerned by Lucas’s unusual behavior.
One particularly creepy scene at the beginning of the film is when Lucas’s class is discussing myths and fairy tales. Lucas reads a dark and twisted version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” to his class. In his version, the bears become possessed, ravenous and unrecognizable. This story ends up symbolizing what happened to his family.
A flashback from Lucas’ perspective shows the moment when Frank fell sick enough to think he might harm or kill Lucas. “You don’t open that f**king door, no matter what I say!” exclaimed Frank in the flashback.
Julia experiences that same level of horror when she skulks around Lucas’ house despite his warning. “When I got close … I heard something that did not sound normal,” she said to Paul.
Thomas’s performance is clearly the best of all the actors in the film. In some parts, Lucas seems creepy and detached, such as when he kills a skunk with a rock, or abruptly ends his discussion with Julia at an ice cream shop. “I have to go, but don’t follow me this time,” Lucas said to Julia before leaving the shop and staring her down as he walked away.
At other times, you can’t help but feel sympathy for his character. This is true when he is alone in the hospital being treated for malnutrition or when he has to let Julia kill his brother to stave off the spirit.
“He’s gonna be okay. He’s just sick,” Lucas says to Julia right before she convinces him that he will not get better. The viewer can see the cycles of abuse and neglect he faced while dealing with the abnormality of his father and brother’s situation.
This penultimate scene ends in sadness as Julia says “I’m so sorry” as she kills Aiden before the spirit can consume him. This poignant moment balances with the cliché scene of killing a monster and saving the local town, and this dichotomy is embodied throughout the film.
In “Antlers,” there are scenes like the opening scene where Frank and Kenny appear genuinely freaked out and get attacked by something the viewer cannot see. The viewer gets hit with good acting, a good scare, and a good mystery right away.
However, there are also scenes like when the spirit finds Lucas at Julia and Paul’s house, and the characters all go to the creepy shed where the spirit is hiding to attack them.
The film is definitely creepy and at times scary. The characters have stories that seem authentic and relatable and are portrayed well by the actors, but it is not exceptional in its horror or its plot.
“Antlers” is worth watching once, but there are both creepier and scarier horror films to watch if the Halloween season hasn’t ended for you just yet.