Antlers accomplishes a few things efficiently and immediately as the movie begins. First, it builds an atmosphere. The opening scenes feature an uncomfortable gloom that remains throughout the film; a gritty realism that makes everything feel dirty. Second, sound and creature design for the movie is great; the sounds the creature makes and it’s appearance on screen are truly impressive. Third, the part of Lucas Weaver as played by Jeremy T. Thomas shines out, even among fair performances from the rest of the cast. And last, it presents a poem about the evils of man as he takes advantage of nature, setting up a theme that is never revisited.
In Antlers, a pair of unemployed miners are using a non-operating mine to cook meth. One of the two miners, Frank Weaver (Scott Haze), has two children. One of his children, Aiden (Sawyer Jones), is just outside the mine, waiting in his truck. The two miners hear a creature in the mine with them and are attacked. Soon after, Aiden enters the mine to look for his father. Three weeks later, Frank’s older son, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), is trapping and collecting wild animals to feed to his father and brother, who are locked in a room and “sick.” Lucas’ teacher, Julia (Keri Russell) is concerned with his behavior, partially because she suspects abuse and was herself a victim of abuse.
In the first act, an obvious theme of abuse and dealing with family trauma emerges that will never actually resolve. Julia, who only came back to her hometown after her father committed suicide, is currently staying with her younger brother, Paul (Jess Plemons), who also serves as the sheriff. She feels guilty for leaving him behind but could not bring herself to stay any longer.
As the second act plays out, we see brief flashes of Julia’s father and several disturbing acts of abuse are implied, both to her and her brother. We also see a perfectly formed metaphor as the relationship Lucas has with his father and brother falls apart while they slowly become monsters. All the while, we see Lucas behave in a way that is consistent with abuse victims and we see a strained relationship between Julia and Paul, who are left free from their abuser, but mired in trauma and unresolved issues between each other and their father.
By the end of the second act, Antlers was perfectly poised to explore the truths of family trauma; instead, Frank finishes his transformation into a wendigo and we get a fairly anti-climactic scene between Julia and the transformed Frank, during which Julia gets scratched once and then stabs the wendigo through the heart. It is worth repeating here that the visuals in this movie are really great, both in terms of the creatures and the bodies they leave behind.
The family trauma stuff? Never really resolved or even visited again. By the end of the movie, we still don’t know many details of Paul and Julia’s lives with their father, and we haven’t even seen any resolution between the two of them.
Horror, as a genre, often steps on itself trying to resolve everything that has been set up. To be fair, no genre is immune, but it does seem that horror struggles more than others. Sometimes a movie can resolve its themes perfectly and make a strong point in the third act, such as Get Out or Babadook. Other times, the third act reveals how much of the first two acts were entirely unplanned.
Perhaps I disappointed myself by overanalyzing a monster movie, but if that’s all it is, it was a bizarre choice to include so many hints and flashbacks to Julia and Paul’s abusive past. And if this movie aspires to be more than just a monster movie, then why not resolve the themes you’ve established throughout the first two-thirds of the movie? As it currently exists, Antlers is a movie with good jump scares, great visuals, a decent cast, a creepy atmosphere, and a unique monster. If that sounds like your bag, you’ll love it, but please be aware of the content. Some of the movie could ruin your fun by reminding you of your childhood trauma, and for literally no reason.
I might watch it again next October if I can stream it someplace, just to settle into the season.
I also might not.
Austin Weiford spends too much time thinking about movies and tv shows. You can find him on Twitter, read more of his writing, or listen to him ruin your favorite movies on his podcast, Better Movie Club.