“It all makes sense, you see. I mean, our ancestral spirits never died. They were here long before we were, and they’ll be here long after we’re gone. But now, they’re angry.”
Dark times call for dark movies. Antlers is a coal mine at midnight.
The opening observation comes from Warren Stokes (Graham Greene), the former sheriff of Cispus Falls, a blighted Oregon town where mutilated citizens are appearing with alarming frequency.
The current sheriff, Paul Meadows (Jesse Plemons), is seeking counsel. He’s out of his depth and confused, hypothesizing a cougar or bear attack is responsible for the mayhem.
Meanwhile, Paul’s schoolmarm sister Julia (Keri Russell) is trying to figure out why her sullen student Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) is drawing pictures of demons and monsters.
In Antlers, all the dots connect to the decline of the planet’s structural integrity. Our systematic “pillaging of Mother Earth” has opened the door to indigenous spirits, most notably the Wendigo, a voracious cannibal that inhabits evil men.
Just below the narrative surface of this riveting supernatural thriller lurks mounting evidence of an infected society that has no access to spiritual vaccine.
Cispus Falls is a moribund mining town, an urban landscape littered with old machinery and empty storefronts, where the only thriving business is meth production.
Deep-rooted trauma is the norm. Julia, a recovering alcoholic with her own childhood of parental abuse, eyes liquor bottles at the store with palpable longing, searching for strength and comfort from any source.
In the background, the news drones on about the opioid epidemic, failing industries, and environmental collapse.
Kerri Russell owns her role as a damaged, unhappy woman who realizes her altruistic motives for helping Lucas are likely futile, but it’s marginally better than giving in to the despair that runs deep in these parts.
She recognizes the telltale signs of abuse in Lucas’s haunted face, a reflection of a home life that is literally hellish. He is a child doomed to maintaining the monstrous status quo at his house, while his younger brother Aidan (Sawyer Jones) is held captive by something that used to be their meth-cooking father (Scott Haze).
The thing Lucas calls “New Dad” is growing increasingly hungry and his grocery list requires fresh meat.
“Is God really dead?” Aidan asks Lucas. “Daddy said God is dead.”
Director Scott Cooper, working alongside executive producer/malevolent maestro Guillermo del Toro, has constructed a thoroughly ravaged world with precious little light—one that is bone-chillingly familiar.
Hey, isn’t that our civilization crumbling?
There are moments of brain-freezing terror in Antlers, including horned creature craft with genuine nightmare potential, a del Toro calling card.
Yet it’s the overall tone that proves the most unsettling factor, because it presents a terminally ill worldview, a pandemic of the soul that never ends.
There may be small victories to be had, individuals worth saving, but the inescapable conclusion is that humanity is fighting a losing battle with havoc we’ve wrought on ourselves.
In nearly every scene, Julia and Paul (the good guys) are stymied by inadequacy and failure. The coroner is apologetic because he can’t explain how the victims were killed. A doctor is unable to predict if a patient will recover. The harried school principal (Amy Madigan) tells Julia she isn’t allowed to intervene on a student’s behalf.
Even Paul admits he was reluctant to take the sheriff’s job, which mainly consists of evicting local homeowners.
“Everyone thinks these problems are just going to go away, and we know that they don’t,” Julia tells him. She could be referring to any number of societal symptoms depicted in Antlers.
The wound runs too deep, there’s no saving this patient. The downward spiral is well under way and no one’s getting off.
Hope you like it bleak.