Creating a heartfelt, relatable on-screen exploration into the human condition and how it’s affected by cultural circumstances can be an arduous task. Setting that examination in the realm of the supernatural can be even more difficult, especially when it comes to showcasing how society influences children’s development. But the new horror movie, Antlers, which was co-written and directed by Scott Cooper, redefines the expectations of classic genre norms by exploring the underlying social issues that are currently plaguing America.
Antlers is based on the short story, The Quiet Boy, which was written by Nick Antosca. He worked alongside Cooper and C. Henry Chaisson to adapt the story into the drama’s screenplay. Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Guillermo Del Toro served as a producer on the feature.
Set in an isolated rural Oregon town, Antlers opens with Frank Weaver (Scott Haze) and his younger son, Aiden (Sawyer Jones), as they’re attacked by a mysterious, giant creature in an abandoned coal mine. The story then shifts to the perspective of Frank’s older son, 12-year-old Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas in his first lead performance), as he struggles to adjust to the recent changes in his life.
After their attack, Frank and Aiden begin to physically transform into what’s later revealed to be a wendigo, a mythological evil creature that originated from the folklore of First Nations in North America. As a result, Lucas is forced to take care of his family in secret. That includes feeding wild animals to his father and brother, who he must keep locked in the attic so that they don’t hurt him or anyone else.
Lucas’ drastic change in life leads him to become increasingly introverted at school. His perplexing behavior catches the attention of his teacher, Julia Meadows (Keri Russell), who’s still contending with adolescent trauma of her own. After he writes a bleak short story for an assignment, she begins to investigate his home life. During her search, Julia finds disturbing pictures that Lucas drew and hid in his desk, which leads her to suspect that her student is being abused at home.
So Julia elicits the help of her brother, Paul (Jesse Plemons), who was recently elected as the local sheriff, to investigate how Frank, who’s a known drug dealer, is raising his sons. The siblings soon uncover dark secrets surrounding Lucas’ family that leads them to terrifying encounters with the wendigo.
Antlers is the rare horror film that thrives on the intricate interweaving of emotionally relatable character motivations and relationships with a notorious supernatural indigenous fable. Both Julia and Lucas must not only contend with self-preservation in a town that’s plagued by several societal issues, but also battling the wendigo, both of which are life-threatening situations. Russell and Thomas stunningly emphasize their characters’ underlying will to survive throughout the entire story, no matter what situation they find themselves in.
The harrowing personal circumstances that Julia and Lucas are forced to battle on a daily basis are powerfully emphasized by Antlers‘ production designer, Tim Grimes. The sets and locations he created, from the Weavers’ dilapidated house to the childhood home that Julia and Paul still share as adults that reminds them of their overbearing father, and the simple, nondescript middle school she teaches Lucas and his classmates in, are effortlessly set in reality. The practical, genuine locations keep the story relatable and genuine, even when the mythical Wendigo finally appears on screen.
Antlers‘ signature monster was powerfully crafted by Del Toro’s frequent art department collaborator, Guy Davis, after they worked together on such films as Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak and the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water. Davis’ creative design is a true representation of a terrifying wild animal that asserts its dominance in part by wearing its antlers like a crown. He also smartly incorporated asymmetry and flat surfaces into the wendigo’s face, which doesn’t include eyes, in an effort to represent inhuman, blind rage.
Another noteworthy element that helps support the drama’s unique combination of heartfelt emotions, human horror and the supernatural is the makeup department. Led by Naomi Bakstad, the department subtly reveals the characters’ backstories through their appearances.
To showcase Julia’s private, lingering pain, Bakstad and the rest of the make-up department gave Russell a stellar rough-edge look through such details as heavy, smudged eyeliner and mysterious tattoos. The department also stunningly highlighted the effects that drugs and poverty have taken on the physical health of the Weaver family. From their ragged teeth to dirty hair and the children’s subtle bruising that can be easily explained by normal childhood activities, Bakstad and her team helped accentuate each of the characters’ backstories through their appearances.
Antlers is an instant horror classic, as it redefines the expectations of classic genre norms by intertwining the underlying social issues that are currently plaguing America with emotionally relatable character and a notorious indigenous fable. Cooper built strong relationships with his cast and crew that resulted in showcasing Julia and Lucas’ underlying will to survive, despite the grim circumstances they’ve contended with throughout their lives. From Russell and Thomas’ stunning performances to the realistic sets and make-up Grimes and Bakstad created and Davis’ daring creative designs, Antlers is a alluring creature feature that won’t soon be forgotten.
Searchlight Pictures is releasing Antlers in theaters this Friday, October 29.
Here’s the trailer of the film.