‘Antlers’ movie review: Dark, moody horror film reflects cycle of abuse

The sun doesn’t shine in Antlers. Not once.

The darkness isn’t solely metaphorical in this story, either; following a mysterious local family that falls on very bad times, the horror movie is an allegory for abuse and how it can be passed down through generations. There’s also a part of the story involving unemployment and poverty, a problem currently ravaging families in America, but that’s a background piece of commentary.

To make things even more complex, there’s an Indigenous component that gets short shrift. The mythological Wendigo spirit — which possesses human beings with an insatiable appetite, urging them to kill — is ultimately responsible for a succession of dead bodies piling up in an Oregon town.

There’s a great story in here somewhere, but the overburdening of elements results in a messy, cryptic surface-brush of a movie.

What, exactly, do you mean by that?

Based on the sharp edits and jumps between scenes, it looks like someone took scissors to the original cut. The end result is jumbled, and in some instances, entire tangents go unaddressed by film’s end.

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The main story follows ex-Californian schoolteacher Julia Meadows (Keri Russell) and her town-sheriff brother Paul (Jesse Plemons) as they find themselves embroiled in a series of grisly murders after she shows a special interest in one of her students, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas). After doing some digging, together the siblings discover that a Wendigo has somehow been let loose on the town, and Lucas is the key to explaining why.

Not a bad story on its own, but you find yourself thirsting for answers that never come.

OK, I don’t care about the story. Is it scary?

There are several scary scenes. The aforementioned darkness and shadow go a long way in amping up the mood, as does the small town. (It’s really British Columbia disguised as Oregon.)

The Wendigo itself is fearsome when you actually manage to get a glimpse. Guillermo del Toro is a producer on Antlers, and his influence is clear from the get-go — his typical gruesome creature, often adorned with long limbs, a creepy visage and nightmarish, erratic movements, is what you’d expect here. The problem is, as you may have experienced in other del Toro films, is you don’t get to see it enough.

But when you do, yep, it’s a scary thing to behold. There are a few particularly gnarly occurrences that might cause you to turn your head or avert your eyes.

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What does abuse have to do with this?

Julia and Paul frequently reference abuse they experienced in their childhoods. While there are quick flashbacks, there’s never any explicit explanation about what happened to them; we are left to make up their history in our own minds. It’s clear that whatever horrors they endured have left them scarred for life.

Running parallel to that story is the Wendigo mythology. The legend goes that the malevolent spirit hops from body to body, person to person, and consumes them. It’s a rather flimsy, simple throughline, but the message is clear: unresolved things that are left to fester do just that, and the ramifications of that are passed down through generations.

It’s a real shame there wasn’t more focus on the Indigenous legend, as that’s what makes the story compelling in a horror capacity. Aside from a very welcome cameo by Graham Greene as the local Indigenous person with knowledge of such things, we don’t get enough of it. It feels as if there’s a whole segment missing.

So what’s the bottom line?

Scattershot and clunky, there’s a great horror movie living somewhere in Antlers. If you’re out for a simple “scare” movie, then you’ll probably enjoy it, but if you like your horror with meaning, there isn’t much to be found here. The mood, the acting and the apparent message of the movie are all great, but somewhere along the line, it manages to lose its way.

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‘Antlers’ is now playing in theatres across Canada. Please check your local listings for further details.

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