GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by Scott Cooper.
Starring Keri Russell, Jeremy T. Thomas, Jesse Plemons.
Horror, US, 99 minutes, certificate 15.
Released in cinemas in the UK October 29th by Fox Searchlight
Delayed from last year, ANTLERS finally arrives on screen with a pedigree of talent both behind the camera and in front of it. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro, co-written by the underrated Nick Antosca adapting his short story “The Quiet Boy” and directed by Scott Cooper, an eclectic director who tries his hand out here with horror for the first time. Set in a small run downtown in Oregon we follow Julia, a teacher who has returned to the town after suffering through a trauma from her past. She finds herself becoming more and more concerned with Lucas, a young pupil of hers who is displaying signs of his own trauma. A trauma stemming from his own home where he keeps something locked in a room, feeding it whatever animal carcasses he can find on his way home through the woods from school.
From the beginning it seems that ANTLERS is angling for an eco-horror angle, with a pre-credits crawl explaining a Native American myth of a malevolent spirit angered by how its land is being treated that will take over its victim’s body. The ecological angle is then never mentioned or hinted at again, instead the film concerns itself with other issues such as childhood related PTSD and the erosion of the small-town American rust belt mixed up with a dollop of native American mythology. For the most part ANTLERS succeeds in keeping the viewer interested, thanks mainly to the committed performances from its cast, which also includes Graham Greene and Rory Cochrane. Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons are reliable as ever as an estranged sister and brother, the latter struggling with his role as a sheriff who also has to reluctantly oversee evictions. Most impressive though is young newcomer Jeremy T. Thomas as the sunken eyed Lucas, struggling to keep his own family together in an impossible situation.
Despite its talent ANTLERS never really gets to grips with its premise. Cooper is a director who specialises in looking at American figures through a near mythic lens, whether it is the Whitey Bulger biopic BLACK MASS, Jeff Bridges Oscar winning turn as a has-been country singer in CRAZY HEART or Wes Studi’s Cheyenne chief in the underrated HOSTILES. Cooper seems more at ease with the more down to earth aspects of the story here; the naturalistic scenes set in Julia’s school or the backdrop to Jacob’s daily life are nicely depicted. When the more films more supernatural aspects take centre stage, they fail to grip the viewer in the way that they should. Despite some impressive design work for the creature at the heart of the film there is very little here that to scare or disturb the viewer.
ANTLERS is a solid film that does not really do anything wrong but at the same time accomplishes very little. Its engaging performances and portrayal of a poverty-stricken U.S. succeed well but as a studio released, mid-budget horror film there is a distinct sense that something more was being aimed for but the decision to settle on the usual horror beats and cliches was the easier option here.