I love movies that have layers.  There’s the base story, which can be enjoyed on one level, but then deeper meanings when you recognize the metaphors being explored.  This usually happens in horror and sci-fi films which are more apt at exploring everyday themes by framing them in extraordinary circumstances.  “Antlers” attempts to do this by contrasting the horrors of American Corporate Greed and the failing welfare system into the First Nation myth of the Wendigo.

Our story takes place in a small, dying mining town in Oregon, one of the dreariest places on the West Coast.  Julia (Keri Russell) has just moved back into her childhood home with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons).  This is the first time she’s been back in 20 years after escaping their now dead abusive father.  There is still some animosity between Paul and his sister, and obviously a lot of painful history, but it is never explored beyond the “I am damaged” trope.  Julia is a school teacher who is having a hard time adjusting to the small town education system she now finds herself in.  One student in her class has caught her eye, a talented but quiet boy named Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas).  Lucas is an exception artist, although his artwork is quite bloody and disturbing.  After sharing a particularly chilling version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Julia beings to look into his personal life more.  It turns out his mother has passed away, and his unemployed father, Frank (Scott Haze), has turned to cooking meth to support Lucas and his brother.  If this isn’t bad enough, Lucas’s father and brother have both been infected by the vengeful spirit of the Wendigo.  Veteran actor Graham Greene appears in the film just long enough to explain this indigenous legend to the white people and warn them about the dangers of greed and upsetting mother nature.

Lucas is doing his best to care for his mutating father and little brother, but it’s not long before they are unwittingly released upon the local population.  As the body count rises, Julia and her Brother do their best to protect Lucas and everyone else who might attract the insatiable hunger of the Wendigo.

The parts of this movie that work, work very well.  Director Scott Cooper does an exception job at building the dread and despair of this small town trapped by poverty.  Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons are as good as they’ve ever been.  Of special note is the performance of young Jeremy T. Thomas who is entirely convincing in his portrayal. The occasional gore and creature design are also exceptional.  However, like “Last Night in Soho” the script is the weakest link.  Hollywood needs to stop mining indigenous mythology if it’s not going to take representation seriously.  The movie also takes too many shortcuts in the final act although it’s hard to say if that’s the fault of the script or over zealous editing.  There’s one point where the police force could have achieved their goal, except someone warns them “not to go any further.”  Instead of turning the corner and closing the case, they all leave!  These odd choices multiply exponentially as the film gets closers to the climax, a climax that is shockingly dark and dreary.

“Antlers” does a lot of things right, but indigenous mythology shouldn’t serve purely white stories.  That coupled with the incredibly depressing “good parts” makes for a movie that is still interesting but not exactly enjoyable.

Antlers
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