Antlers Slow Burns Too Unevenly Too Often

Antlers was amongst a long list of horror movies that a saw multiple, lengthy delays getting to movie theaters. Even as the COVID pandemic lingers, the Scott Cooper-helmed monster movie finally lurked into cineplexes just before Halloween. Based on Nick Antosca’s short story, The Quiet Boy, Antlers arrives with some pedigree. In addition to an impressive cast, Guillermo del Toro serves as a producer and Cooper already has a handful of impressive efforts under his belt. Yet in spite of its talent and promising trailers, critics had a mixed response to the results.


In a small Oregon town, Julia Meadows, an elementary school teacher haunted by her past, grows increasingly concerned about one of her students. The gaunt boy, Lucas, is hiding a secret. Both his father and younger brother are missing. Most of the townspeople know Lucas’ father is involved in the illegal meth trade. And Julia suspects the boy is being abused. But when a mauled body turns up in the dense Oregon woods, Julia and her brother and town sheriff, Paul fear something worse may be going on.

Antlers Has Atmosphere to Spare, But Lacks Urgency

Antlers has a lot going for it and, whether you fully get into it, there’s no denying it gets some things right. Director Scott Cooper wastes little time establishing the movie’s threat with a tense opening. Following that introductory scene, Antlers settles into a atmospheric story that feels appropriately haunting. British Columbia capably doubles for Oregon giving the movie the kind of isolated backdrop a horror movie like this needs. In addition, cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister (The Terror) knows know how to invest this lush scenery with a bit of dread. Every shot in Antlers looks amazing. By and large, the creature effects are impressive when kept in the shadows – Antlers’ Wendigo and the carnage it leaves behind are top-notch.

…its middle act often meanders somewhat aimlessly

Where Antlers runs into problems is a slow-burn that never catches on to a boil. There’s atmosphere to spare but surprisingly little tension for most of the movie. Cooper doesn’t rely much on jump scares and while you’ll find a handful of moments where you may feel uncomfortable Antlers rarely makes you grip the edge of your seat. In fact, its middle act often meanders somewhat aimlessly. When Cooper finally ups the stakes for the climax, it feels a little underwhelming. At times I found myself checking how much time was left, which is never a good sign. There’s a lack of urgency to the movie – a problem that is keenly felt by its conclusion. And Antler’s monster looks less impressive when its fully exposed.

Antlers Can’t Deliver On All of Its Big Ideas

For the sake of honesty, I have not read The Quiet Boy and, as a result, I cannot offer any position on how well Antlers adapts its source material. Nonetheless, I can certainly comment on what’s put up on the screen. Best intentions aside, Cooper and co-writer C. Henry Chaisson’s screenplay is messy and, at times, heavy-handed. Initially, Antlers’ opening scrawl promises an environmental parable wrapped in Indigenous spirituality. Despite its use of Indigenous mythology around the legendary Wendigo – alongside some obvious nods to fairytales – Cooper and Chaisson don’t really follow through on the theme. Though Antlers does a little better developing its parallels between the Wendigo’s ravenous hunger and the drugs and abuse plaguing the fictional town, the theme often feels obvious and clunky.

But Antlers compensates for this shortcoming with compelling characters and strong performances.

These problems point more towards good intentions – the writers had a lot of interesting ideas and struggled to give them their proper due in the movie. But Antlers compensates for this shortcoming with compelling characters and strong performances. As the traumatized Julia Meadows, Keri Russell ensures the character doesn’t fall victim to victim tropes commonly found in television and movies. Instead, Russell’s performances makes Meadows a compelling character with agency and an inner strength that balances out her troubled past. Jesse Plemons continues to be one of the more interesting, underrated actors working today. He has a knack for fulling inhabiting and losing himself in his characters. Sadly, Antlers wastes Graham Greene in what feels like a glorified cameo. While he’s young, Jeremy T Thomas stands out with a haunting presence.

Antlers Can’t Help But Feel Like a Missed Opportunity

Though not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, Antlers labors under its own heavy-handed themes. And like many slow-burn horror movies, Antlers waits too long to pull the trigger on its meticulously built atmosphere. Simply put, as Cooper finally ratchets things up, many viewers may have likely detached from what’s happening on the screen. That it’s themes feel more clumsy than poignant doesn’t help things. Yet Antlers also boasts rich horror atmosphere set against some impressive cinematography, mostly impressive creature effects, and always impressive performances.


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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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