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Moody, bleak, scary good movie 4 Stars

Antlers is a dark and somber horror affair with impressive dramatic pedigree. Horror master Guillermo Del Toro is amongst the list of producers, which signals a promising production, and I’d say that promise is mostly delivered. The film succeeds ins creating a brooding mood, carrying tension in the production design and cinematography as much as the blood that spills on screen in some well-staged scenes. I find the style of horror mood on display here captivating, perhaps solidified by the X-Files and that show’s moody Vancouver production location shoots. And the persistent damp and cold augments that sense of isolation and potential for scary things that go bump in the night. Antlers is mature and flawed, always compelling and sometimes too familiar, but it ultimately succeeds.

Antlers (2021)
Released: 29 Oct 2021
Rated: R
Runtime: 99 min
Director: Scott Cooper
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Cast: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas
Writer(s): Henry Chaisson, Nick Antosca, Scott Cooper
Plot: In an isolated Oregon town, a middle-school teacher and her sheriff brother become embroiled with her enigmatic student, whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with an ancestral creature.
IMDB rating: 6.0
MetaScore: 57

Disc Information
Studio: Disney
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: R
Run Time: 1 Hr. 39 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: Standard Blu-ray, no sleeve
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 01/04/2022
MSRP: $29.99

The Production: 4/5

“Once, there were three bears that lived in a dark and wet cave above a small town. Every day, Little Bear went to school, and at night he would come home and eat dinner. But one day, the little bear came home, and Big Bear and Baby Bear were different. Big Bear got sick, and his insides turned black. Big Bear has become more angrier and meaner, because they had no food, no meat. But they had each other.”

It’s winter in a cold, damp Oregon town seemingly set apart from the rest of the world. A young boy, Aiden (Sawyer Jones), waits in his dad’s truck outside an abandoned mine while his father, a criminal, and an accomplice, work at their makeshift meth lab. Aiden sees his father attacked by something terrifying and from that moment, the town is changed. In school, Aiden’s older brother, Lucas, doesn’t speak of what happened, or of the bizarre secret he’s keeping about what is going on in his house, but a new teacher, Julie Meadows (Keri Russell), recognizes signs of trauma in the boy. With the help of her brother, Paul (Jesse Plemons), the town Sheriff, as the town is overwhelmed by strange disappearances and deaths, Ms. Meadows seeks to help young Lucas and find out what has roiled their quiet world.

Antlers, based on the story The Quiet Boy by Nick Antosca, is directed by Scott Cooper, director of Crazy Heart, Hostiles, and Black Mass. Accustomed to darkness but not explicitly the horror genre, Cooper brings a strong dramatic sensibility to the film. He creates an isolated, dark corner of the world in which he lets loose upon the damp and gloomy northwest landscape a tale of myth and bloody carnage. It’s a brooding, misty, overcast canvas painted with very serious moments, an air of mystery, but a beating heart of broken characters finding their way through the darkness. Those broken characters – Keri Russell’s Julie, Jesse Plemons’ Paul, and Jeremy T. Thomas’ Lucas – are superbly performed. Thomas as the quiet boy is brilliant in exploring emotional fragility and inner conflict, defiance and need. Aided by a good supporting cast, which includes Amy Madigan, Scott Haze, Graham Greene, and Sawyer Jones, the performances anchor the proceedings in the dramatic even while the mythical horror elements ramp up. Those horror elements, which I hesitate to call out (despite it being clear in the name of the special features), are of an indigenous American mythological creature with which most horror fans will be at least somewhat familiar. I managed to go into this film without knowing exactly the nature of the creature and I think that works best. So, I’ve tried to avoid saying it out loud for those of you who don’t know yet. Skip over the special features section to keep it that way!

Notwithstanding occasional reliance on familiar horror tropes, like someone heading alone to investigate strange sounds in a shed or creeping around a house trying to find someone despite all the reasons in the world to retreat and get more help, Antlers manages to create a distinct aura. There’s a strong sense of unsettling dread matched with beautiful and cold cinematography that stands out and accentuates the strong performances.

The film was delayed from its originally planned release date due to the pandemic, which shuffled the theatrical release schedule seismically in 2022 and 2021. Finally released in October 2021, a full three years after production officially began, Antlers made only a modest impact. On home video and streaming, the film should find a better audience and it certainly deserves to. There’s too much compelling mood and disconcerting goodness for this film to simply fade away.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

Visually, Antlers is dark, cold, and bleak. Framed at 1.85:1, this Blu-ray presents that vision with excellent detail, strong black levels that don’t obscure scenes, and deep color saturation for black, brown, dark green, and other colors on its muted palette. Even scenes in daylight are muted, aligning with the moody weather feeling the director and cinematographer are aiming for. This is really the kind of production that would shine on 4K disc. The film is however available in 4K on streaming services (like Vudu). Flesh tones are cooler, and there is limited use of warmer colors, but the Blu-ray presents the film very well indeed.

Audio: 4.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track on offer is well calibrated to support the narrative. As much as the cinematography is brooding, so is the audio. Composer Javier Navarrete brings a good deal of that mood alive with his orchestrations, but sound effects work just as hard to make the audio an absorbing presence.  Dialogue is often on the quieter side, by design, but always clear as are the creature attacks which result in bursts of sound.

Special Features: 3/5

A decent collection of short special features that examine, albeit briefly, the making of, and vision for, Antlers.

The Evil Within – Co-writer/director Scott Cooper gives us a glimpse of the many complex layers at play in his approach to making Antlers, a horror film about very human concerns, and his most ambitious film to date.

An Exploration of Modern Horror with Guillermo del Toro – Producer Guillermo del Toro traces the lineage of elevated horror in cinema. Employing his encyclopedic knowledge and passion for the horror genre, he discusses the connection between mythology and human behavior.

Artifacts and Totems – The filmmakers discuss how they created this world of a small, tight-knit Northwest community of working-class Americans in bringing Scott Cooper’s vision to life.

Gods Walk Among Us – An in-depth exploration of the digital and practical effects used to create the film’s primal creatures.

Cry of the Wendigo – Discover the fascinating folklore behind the wendigo from the film’s First Nations consultants. Learn about the creature’s mythic origins and about its connection to man’s betrayal of the land.

Metamorphosis – At the center of Antlers is a transformative performance by Scott Haze. Hear about the actor’s preparation for filming, including how he lost some 70 pounds to play a deeply tragic character.

Comic-Con @ Home with Scott Cooper and Guillermo del Toro – Steve Weintraub moderates this candid [email protected] 2020 Panel interview with Guillermo del Toro and Scott Cooper. Hear the filmmakers describe their process and learn who some of their filmmaking heroes are.

Overall: 4/5

Antlers is a dark and somber horror affair with impressive dramatic pedigree. Horror master Guillermo Del Toro is amongst the list of producers, which signals a promising production, and I’d say that promise is mostly delivered. The film succeeds ins creating a brooding mood, carrying tension in the production design and cinematography as much as the blood that spills on screen in some well-staged scenes. I find the style of horror mood on display here captivating, perhaps solidified by the X-Files and that show’s moody Vancouver production location shoots. And the persistent damp and cold augments that sense of isolation and potential for scary things that go bump in the night. Antlers is mature and flawed, always compelling and sometimes too familiar, but it ultimately succeeds.

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Published by

Neil Middlemiss

editor