Written by Taylor Baker
Scott Cooper’s Antlers was originally slated to release in April of 2020, a couple delays and a Disney buyout of 21st Century Fox later and the film that completed it’s shoot in November of 2018 is finally available to audiences nationwide. Scott Cooper’s previous film Hostiles released in the late December award contender window of 2017. So the lengthy wait for his follow up film has been more or less due to circumstance than a ruminatory artist pursuing his muse. And Antlers is a decidedly different affair than the brooding stoic western with an ensemble of big names(Headed by Christian Bale) and great talent that made up Hostiles(Though Jesse Plemmons does reteam with Cooper here). Instead Antlers leans on Keri Russell of FX’s The Americans fame who returns to her Oregon rural mountain mining hometown following the death of her father. Her brother Paul Meadows, played by Jesse Plemmons, was just elected sheriff of the small town just before the film begins following the step down of Sheriff Stokes, played by Graham Greene.
At the start of the film we’re greeted by a grim scene, a young boy playing outside returns to a pickup truck parked in front of the mineworks. Shortly after he gets on the wide bench seat of the truck his father shuffles up from the mine shafts with a box in his hands. As he tucks the mysterious box under a tarp in the truck bed he commands his son to stay in the cab. The ominousness is largely missing as we’re cudgelled by the knowledge something bad is undoubtedly about to occur. The camera follows him as he ignites a flare and navigates the zigzagging shafts of the mine until he reaches a friend he is cooking methamphetamine with deep in one of the pockets. As he approaches the cook site we hear a growling otherworldly sound. This is our introduction to the Wendigo, the native American mythological creature the film and the short story on which it’s based revolve around.
Keri Russell’s Julia Meadows is a school teacher in the isolated town and one of her students Lucas Weaver is the eldest son of the man we saw previously cooking methamphetamine in the mineshaft. Upon discovering some of his drawings she becomes disturbed and the film’s narrative proper kicks in. Antlers is a disappointing step down from Cooper. Aside from a handful of exterior shots, the gorgeous cinematography of Hostiles which he shot with Masanobu Takayanagi is gone. Florian Hoffmeister picks up the camera for Cooper and though it’s doubtlessly unfair to compare the two entirely due to the setting of Hostiles being rampant with gorgeous vistas and skyscapes, Antlers is uninteresting even in its ugliness. Only reaching higher moments of quality at it’s big loud jump scare plot beats. In addition to its general flatness the story doesn’t creep into or under your skin. Not just in a horror motif way, but in a caring about the narrative way. In the story of Cooper’s body of work Antlers is undoubtedly a down swing. Other than a few fun jump scares, it never fully capitalizes on its premise nor it’s talent.
Antlers is currently available in wide theatrical release.