Scott Copper’s ‘Antlers’ is a creature feature that is light on the creature but heavy on the notion that the people in our lives can cause far more devastation than any monster.
The film opens on Frank Weaver (Scott Haze) who’s in the process of packing up the meth lab he was running out of an abandoned mine, while his seven-year-old son Aiden (Sawyer Jones) waits outside in the truck. While grabbing the remainder of his belongings, he and his partner hear what they suspect to be a wild animal. While investigating the sounds, the two men are attacked by an unseen creature. Upon hearing the men’s screams, Aiden leaves the truck and goes into the mine to look for his father.
We then cut to “3 weeks later” where we’re introduced to Julia Meadows (Keri Russell), a schoolteacher who has recently moved back to her hometown to live with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), the town sheriff. One of Julia’s new students is twelve-year-old Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas), the eldest son of Frank. It’s through Julie and Lucas’ perspective that ‘Antlers’ works to set up that something sinister is taking place in the Weaver home.
It’s also here where ‘Antlers’ starts to establish Julia’s backstory. Through the use of flashbacks, we learn that Julia was abused as a child. She managed to get away from her abusive father, but left her brother behind in the process, a fact that has caused a rift between the two siblings that she is now trying to repair.
As if trying to make up for not being there for her brother, she attempts to bond with Lucas, who she begins to suspect might be the victim of an abusive father. Through her attempts to bond with her young student, we learn that Frank and Aiden may still be alive.
Our suspicions are soon confirmed when moments later, Lucas goes into the attic with the entrails of a dead raccoon and we see that the two survived their encounter, but appear to be suffering from some sort of metamorphosis that is turning them into savage creatures.
After spending so much time establishing our characters’ backstories and showcasing their struggles, ‘Antlers’ then tries to work the story back to the creature from the opening. The remains of Frank’s accomplice are found in the woods by former sheriff Warren Stokes (Graham Greene). Following an autopsy of the remains, it’s discovered that whatever mauled the man left human teeth marks on the body.
Looking to further build onto this horror element that seemed non-existent in the film up to this point, the Weaver family begins to fall further into turmoil, as Frank appears to be changing into something that hardly resembles a human form and Aiden also appears to be losing his humanity.
Unrelenting in her quest to prove that Lucas is a victim of abuse, Julia confides in the school’s principal, who decides to attend the Weaver home to look for herself. While searching the residence, she discovers a locked door and finds Aiden before quickly being attacked by Frank. Now having tasted human flesh, Frank loses any trace of humanity he had left and begins transforming into a monstrous creature.
After Ellen is reported missing, Julia returns to the Weaver residence where she finds Ellen’s car. Paul and his partner, Dan Lecroy (Rory Cochrane), then arrive to discover Ellen’s body, along with the charred remains of Frank’s body. Lucas is also found and taken to the hospital, but Aiden’s whereabouts remain a mystery.
Through more flashbacks, we learn that, following the initial attack, Frank returned home with Aiden, where he told Lucas to lock him in the attic. It isn’t long before Aiden also starts to develop the same sickness that has befallen Frank.
The next day, Julia and Paul visit Warren Stokes, who tells the siblings the story of the wendigo, a legendary Algonquin creature that appears as a ravenous, cannibalistic spirit. He informs them that the creature can jump from person to person and that it can only be killed when it is feeding.
After being discharged from the hospital, Julia takes Lucas home. He reveals that Frank is still alive and plans to come for him to take him down to the mine to be with Aiden.
Worried that there might be something to Warren’s story, Paul sends Dan to check up on his home where he ends up being fatally attacked by Frank. Paul arrives and is also attacked by the transformed Frank.
After Julia tends to Paul, the two siblings head to the mine to look for Lucas. While inside the mine, Julia discovers that Frank has become a wendigo and, with the help of Lucas, she is able to destroy the creature’s heart. True to the story, the curse then moves to Aiden, who begins to slowly transform like his father. Despite Lucas’ protests, Julia stabs Aiden, effectively ending the curse.
‘Antlers’ ends with a twist when it’s revealed that the curse may not truly be over.
‘Antlers’ is a film about trauma that disguises itself as a horror movie. You’re led to believe that the story is going to be about a creature, but it is actually about how the characters are being impacted by the events transpiring in the film.
The underlying story about Julia’s trauma is meant to explain to the audience why she is going to great lengths to help this young boy. It’s a chance to redeem herself and stop him from suffering the same fate she was subjected to. The story of both Julia’s and Lucas’ traumas also serves to illustrate the effects our families can have on our lives.
What little horror elements ‘Antlers’ contains don’t show up until the third act. And when they do show up, they come in the form of a CGI monster that feels out of place in a movie that has focused more on the relationships between the characters than on the actual monster.
The stand-out horror scene is when Frank attempts to wear his severed human face over his new, transformed self. This delivers the deep message that lurking behind any man is the potential to be a monster. In Frank’s case, he was already a monster before the transformation, but he was still trying desperately to cling to a humanity that had left him long ago.
On a scale of 1-5 stars, I give this movie 3 stars.
Although ‘Antlers’ is not a great movie it’s definitely worth a watch for the profound message that it serves to deliver to the audience: that it’s the people closest to us who have the ability to hurt us the most.
‘Antlers’ stars Keri Russell as Julia Meadows, Jesse Plemons as Paul Meadows, Jeremy T. Thomas as Lucas Weaver, Graham Greene as Warren Stokes, Scott Haze as Frank Weaver, Rory Cochrane as Daniel Lecroy, Sawyer Jones as Aiden Weaver, Amy Madigan as Principal Ellen Booth, and Cody Davis as Clint Owens.