Antlers (2021), directed by Scott Cooper and based on Nick Antosca’s short tale ‘The Quiet Boy,’ has highlighted Guillermo del Toro’s producing participation in its advertising, to which Antlers bears certain parallels but differs. The main narrative, like many of del Toro’s films, is on children growing up in harsh circumstances, although the portrayal here is darker and more desolate than del Toro’s presentations. That is not an issue because we enjoy dark films. Another distinction is that, while there is possibility for it, Antlers does not share del Toro’s affection for monsters. Again, we have no objections to this, but if the film had been longer, we would have wanted to have seen more of Frank Weaver’s (Scott Haze) character and his bond with his children prior to the bizarre and cruel events that happened to them.
Following the loss of his wife, Frank Weaver, a single father, supports his family by making and selling methamphetamine in a community in Oregon plagued by social and economic challenges (actually filmed in beautiful British Columbia). He comes upon a mysterious and dangerous monster while working in an abandoned mine that he uses as a laboratory. Both his colleague and his son Aiden (Sawyer Jones) are attacked, and his drug partner is slain outright. Following the assault, Frank and Aiden continue to deteriorate and become increasingly ferocious. They are locked in a room and are tended for by another son, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), who gives them food, which in the case of the father frequently consists of roadkill.
Dealing with the stress of being a young home caregiver to his father and brother in the strangest and most severe of circumstances, as well as coping with the sadness of losing his mother, has a notable impact on the boy. He is excessively slender, and his clothes are threadbare. Lucas, who is little, quiet, introverted, impoverished, and unusual, is sadly the subject of bullying. This is about his new teacher Julia Meadows (Keri Russell), who has returned to her hometown after the loss of her father, sharing her childhood home with her brother Paul Meadows (Jesse Plemons). A survivor of childhood abuse herself at the hands of her father (her mother died when Julia and Paul were still young) upon witnessing the character and condition of Lucas as well as his macabre paintings, worries that the boy may be a victim of abuse at home. When the school principal (Amy Madigan) visits the child’s home to examine the problem, all hell breaks out.
The film’s delivery falls somewhere between a slow-burn social realism horror and a more conventional creature picture, which does not really work for me in this case. The horror SFX are pretty visceral and skillfully executed, yet they feel a little out of place. You would have liked that more of the gore and violence be indicated rather than shown, but the actual nature of the beast in this picture is brutal, and some viewers may have thought that removing this component would dull the story.
Likewise, due of the two aesthetic pathways taken, it is possible that particular characters, events, and story arcs were not given adequate characterization. The amount of emphasis given to Julia and Paul’s personal childhood pain and loss may feel underrepresented, but cinema has a limited duration in general, and the time allotted for the entire narrative is sufficient in Antlers; if this film was much longer, it would be too lengthy. This is because it isn’t a poor film that you wanted to finish as fast as possible, but because the horrific part of it that dominated the final third played out adopting old stereotypes in a more traditional horror film fashion and did not do anything for truly unique.
Since the plot is based on the legend of the Wendigo of some Native North American peoples, but was created and cast primarily by non-natives, there is a possibility of exploitation / misappropriation and colonial-hangover misleading statements of the ‘Other.’ Even though some audience may be wary of sociopolitical aspects in film-making and reviews, if you are inspired as a creative to write about and film an aspect of another culture, whether for fiction or documentary purposes, we believe there is a role and responsibility to be perceptive, appreciative, and grounded in fact.
The body shape of the Wendigo is a topic of dispute. Warren Stokes’ description of it in the film does suggest that it may manifest itself in several ways. This is also true, according to folklore. In some stories, it is similar to humans but exceedingly grizzled and haggard; in others, it is a giant figure; and in yet others, it is more animal than man.
The antlers that give the film its name and serve as one of the most powerful personal images of the Wendigo are not necessarily seen in ancient traditions. However, for many others, the antlers play an important role in the shape and essence of the Wendigo. Its depiction in the film is adequate, and the ultimate metamorphosis from human to monster form is a distinguishing feature of the picture.
Antlers, unfortunately, vowed more than it just accomplished.