“In an isolated Oregon town, a middle-school teacher and her sheriff brother become embroiled with her enigmatic student, whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with an ancestral creature.”

Director: Scott Cooper
Writers: Henry Chaisson, Nick Antosca, Scott Hooper
Staring: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas
Release Date: October 29, 2021

Antlers (2021) is not what you expect, and that is one of the fantastic aspects the movie has going for it. The trailers leading up to the movies October release made it seem like a bloody scary monster movie, but Antlers is much more than that. This original screenplay from Henry Chaisson, Nick Antosca and Scott Cooper delves deep in allegories and themes of abuse and expertly weaves character’s hidden scars with the bloody violence that is tangibly taking place.

Antlers is a great surprise and it deserves far more attention than I have heard around it. God forbid we have a movie that isn’t exactly genre specific and connects the strings between the horrors of fables and family. Before we get further, I am going to tell you to watch Antlers now because it is among the top-10 of all the 2021 released movies I have seen.

Antlers opens up with Frank Weaver (Scott Haze) and his friend cleaning up what looks to be a makeshift drug operation. Frank’s young son Aiden Weaver (Sawyer Jones) is told to wait in the car, but a scary noise from in within the soon-to-be-reopened mines draws him towards the entrance.

Flash forward a bit of time and the dreariness is cranked up. We meet Julia Meadows (Keri Russell), who is a former resident of this small town that just returned home to be with her brother Paul Meadows (Jesse Plemons), who is the sheriff of the town. Julia is a teacher at the local small school and begins to notice that one student is very malnourished and behaving distant. The child is Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas), and he is exacerbated because he is taking care of his father and brother, both of whom are incredibly sick with something. What ever that something is, the affliction causes them to only want to eat meat, and raw meat at that. Frank in particular is behaving like a rabid animal.

Sawyer Jones As Aiden Weaver

The important thing to know about the Julia, Paul and Lucas all have in common is that they are victims of abuse as children. We get flashbacks and stories told by Julia that illustrate how cruel her father was to her. Paul went through his own tribulations, but he is not as vocal about them. In fact, there is a knockout scene in the movie when Paul tells Julia that she was not the only one to have their childhood ruined by their father. It is a come-to-Jesus moment for Julia. Lucas is the one currently going through the abuse, but it is not in the malicious way that the Meadows kids went through. The sickness that is affecting the Frank and Aiden is the main catalyst for Lucas’ childhood road blocks, but he also deals with heavy bullying and overall neglect from the community.

The story of Antlers get messy when Frank evolves into…something. He gets a taste of human flesh and the transformation that he was unknowingly taking part in is complete. The father and son leave their home and are now lost in the wind, and blood is the scent they are carrying with them.

The wendigo as an essence has its origin explained by former sheriff Warren Stokes (Graham Greene). The former sheriff discovers a savaged body in the woods and begins to believe that the violence occurring in this town is connected to this earthly creature. Stoke’s explains that wendigo are born out of mother nature begin angry at the earth’s inhabitants. This origin makes sense with the exposition provided earlier that the mines are being reopened to revitalize the town. Stokes also explains that the only way to kill a wendigo is to kill it in the heart. Leaving this meeting, Julia is starting to believe, but Paul doesn’t have faith in the fantastical tale. That will change…in short time.

Jeremy T. Thomas as Lucas Weaver

Julia and Paul take the now isolated and homeless Lucas back to their childhood house where they think they will all be safe. The wendigo has different ideas. Aiden is found by a police offer hiding in a shed, but it turns out he was just bait for the wendigo to take down those who he deems are preventing him from reuniting with Lucas. Paul gets taken down by the wendigo and tossed like a rag doll, so the only one left to try and save Lucas is Julia.

The reflective characters meet up in the same mine where Frank and Aiden met the Wendigo. To this point we have not seen the monster in its full terrifying glory. Now, with Julia lighting up the room, we see the bark-skinned beast rise to his fullest heights and stare down at this women who is invading this family’s fucked up reunion. Julia confronts the wendigo and battles it to the end, symbolic of how she has been battling with the herself and the past memories of home that are haunting her.

Antlers does not have a happy ending, but it does have a perfect one for the story it was telling. This movie was never about the horrors of a monster, but rather the horrors that one can afflict on someone they care about.

The vibes are strong with Antlers. They are not happy vibes, but they are pungent vibes. If you have seen Cooper’s Out Of The Furnace (2013) or Hostiles (2017), then you have a strong sense of what Antlers is going to make you feel like. (It is going to make you feel like shit). Along the outskirts of the Cooper vibes camp is Trey Edward Shults It Comes At Night (2017), which is a movie that divided many people but had an undeniably unbelievable debut movie trailer.

In the same vein as the viewing vibe, Antlers uses the dreariness of the its small Oregon town to great affect. The constant soppiness and never-ending cloud cover creates a shadow over all the movie’s major character, which is symbolic in itself because every character in this movie has something heavy hanging over them.

Now the number one reason to love Antlers. This movie attacks abuse and illustrates its hidden affects in a haunting way. The wendigo that is haunting the small town’s inhabitants is a mysterious, seldom understood essence that has the ability to transport between individuals and slowly infect them with a “disease” that burns them from in the inside out until eventually the monster within bursts forth and leaves a beaten up body of the human lying in a heap.

It may be a little extreme…but the same thing can be said for what abuse can do to an individual.

No matter what way you cope with abuse, there are going to be side effects. Physical abuse can leave scrapes and bruises on your body, but any type of abuse leaves emotional scars. These scars eat you up inside, tear your walls down, and eventually eat you from the inside out. Inside you are left hollow because you have nothing left to give. All you have done is fight to keep yourself sane and you have alienated a majority of the life around you.

Keri Russell as Julia Meadows

When you look at the characters in Antlers that have dealt with trauma and abuse, they all have their ways of isolating themselves to protect themselves. That is

Okay, maybe I am little attached to this (awkward chuckle haha).

When one is abused, there are different ways of coping with it. There is the Julia path of needing to escape the abuse zone for a while. There is the Paul method of living within the abuse and trying to cope with it in a calm way and never speaking of it and just trying to power through it. There is also the Lucas path of holding out hope that you can save those who are abusing you, even if you don’t know that what you are going through is traumatic.

The symbolism and connectivity between the wendigo and victims of abuse is emphasized again when we finally see the mystical beast of the wood for the first time in all is barky, gory, glory. When Julia enters into the mine and finds the boys huddled in a corner, we see the wendigo turn away from its meal and look right at Julia…with the face of Frank Weaver still attached to it. The wendigo, despite it being all gnarly and murderous, is still wearing the face that his boys recognize. To them, he is still their father. The symptoms of the affliction have taken him over, but he is trill trying to act out some part of normality. People who suffer from abuse or mental handicaps and have to deal with the repercussions know that putting on a mask to walk through society is a necessary skill. Not everyone is ready to see what is really lying underneath the outward appearance.

Terrifying, right?

The wendigo can be killed, but its spirit will always be transferred to those that it has literally hurt. If it attacks you, penetrates you in some way, then you have the seed of its spirit inside of you. We see this at the end of the movie when a character begins leaking the essence of the wendigo. This is a mirror of the real world as well; if you have been hurt by abuse or something of the variety, then you have a piece of that hurtful behavior inside if you. It does not mean that you will act on it, but it means that you have been affected by it. Without you knowing, it may spring up at any moment and before you know it, you can become the monster. It is a cruel cycle, and one that is very hard to break.

I should also note that I wanted Antlers on a plane, and it was still this impactful for me. Antlers is really a must watch, and the best thing I have seen Scott Cooper put out. Antlers is not as much of a horror movie as it is a very dark character study. This is that stuff of fables; attaching a real-world lesson to a fantastical tale to mainly entertain but also educate an audience on culture, society, and humanity. This is what Julia talked about with her class the first time we meet her in the movie. It all comes full circle.

STANKO RATING: A- (4.5/5 Stars)

P.S. This is the second movie in a week that I have watched that draws a very parallel setting to the book I am reading, Gray Mountain by John Grisham.

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