*. Antlers is a movie loosely based on a briskly efficient short story called “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca (who also had a hand in writing the screenplay). You can probably find it online and I recommend reading it, as briskness and efficiency are two words I wouldn’t apply to Antlers.
*. No, this is a film by Scott Cooper, the same Mr. Brooding-and-Intense that brought us Out of the Furnace and Hostiles. It’s hard not to watch Jesse Plemons as the sheriff in this film and not wonder if Christian Bale wasn’t available. He certainly belongs here.
*. “Here,” in this case, is the logging/mining town of Cispus Falls, Oregon, a magical place where it can go from afternoon to middle of the night in a single scene cut. This is the same sort of working-class wasteland as in Out of the Furnace, doubly hit because the two main industries seem to be forestry and mining. I thought this an odd combination, and in any event the mine has been shut down, providing a handy place to summon demons.
*. The story is set in West Virginia. I guess Oregon (or British Columbia, standing in for Oregon) was more photogenic. Or cheaper. Or both. Anyway, it seems Cispus Falls has raised the spirit of a Wendigo, which I didn’t think were native to the Pacific Northwest but luckily Graham Greene is on hand to be the Wise Old Indian Man who tells us it’s all legit.
*. I don’t know what got the Wendigo riled up. There’s a hint dropped about it being upset at the desecration of the natural environment, but nothing much is made of it. Instead, he’s more of a metaphor. People on drugs become monsters who take it out on their kids. The Wendigo is a junky hooked on blood, as well as a domestic abuser. This is nothing new for a horror film, and I thought the story was edgier (if less progressive) for suggesting the politically incorrect notion that people stuck in poverty are scary and disgusting. Which, from the vantage point of Hollywood, is probably how they do appear.
*. As an aside, the problem with horror movies that present their monsters as metaphors is that they tend to fall apart at the join between what’s “real” in the movie and what is only supposed to be representing something else. Here there clearly is a giant antlered monster, except that’s not what we’re supposed to believe he really is. This is unsatisfactory.
*. Keri Russell plays a teacher who gets creeped out when one of the kids in her class starts drawing scary pictures. She investigates and discovers that the boy is keeping his Wendigo-daddy and kid brother locked up in his house. The Wendigo escapes and goes on a rampage, but Russell, a survivor of parental abuse herself, will stand up to the boy’s bogeyman.
*. The Wendigo itself isn’t in Antosca’s story. The critter there isn’t related to drug use or child abuse but is apparently a demon that has been summoned through an occult ritual. But it does have antlers. It has antlers here too, which it uses to gore its victims before eating them. I didn’t care very much for its appearance, but I did appreciate the practical effects. A CGI Wendigo would have looked out of place in such a setting.
*. As you might expect by now from Cooper, the pacing is leaden. And it’s not helped this time out by the clichéd presentation. There’s a scene in the classroom where Russell talks about folklore and fairy tales, which introduces that motif. Then throw in the radio news used to give us more information, the disturbing drawings the boy makes, the scene at the morgue where everyone wonders what could have possibly done this, the aforementioned Wise Old Indian Man along with the dismissal of Christian mythology (God is dead and Jesus has left town), the monster behind a locked door and the threatened child, and even a few overhead car shots (never out of place in a horror film). These all make it feel as though Cooper is just going through the motions, and I can’t say he has a great feel for suspense in the first place.
*. Nothing special, in short, and actually a bit less than that. But I’ll leave you with a recommendation in case you are interested in watching another horror movie that has an antlered creature in it, and one that was also shot in British Columbia. Go check out Black Mountain Side. It’s creepier, and deserves to be better known.