Monday, May 23, 2022

Oh Deer


Ever feel dumb? I was a good ten minutes into
Antlers before I realized it was a different movie from Horns.

Anyhoo...

Quick Plot: Frank, a nice upstanding citizen, is cooking meth in a closed Oregon mine with his associate by his side and son Aiden on watch. Something attacks the men, leaving a complicated new family setup for older (but still elementary age) brother Lucas. 


At school, Lucas tries to stay under the radar, understandable when your weekly chores now involve collecting roadkill to feed your feral dad and little brother locked in the ever-smelling basement. His teacher Julia (sad eyeliner mood Keri Russell) senses something is amiss, having herself grown up a victim of abuse alongside her now town sheriff brother Paul (Jesse Plemons).


Julia tries to reach out to Lucas, but the boy is (UNDERSTANDABLY) hesitant. When she sends her principal (randomly played by Amy Madigan) to visit his home, the carnage spills out.



Or...not? I don't know, if four mangled-beyond-recognition corpses were discovered in a tiny town over the course of 48 hours, wouldn't...someone care? Poor ill-equipped Paul and his even less-prepared deputy (PLAYED BY RORY COCHRANE FOR SOME REASON) take on the case, enlisting the wisdom of retired sheriff (and conveniently inidgenous) Graham Greene to throw in some handy wendigo slaying trivia.



I'm being a little hard on Antlers, and here's why: this movie could have been so much more.

You have an actual cast of good, interesting actors, a decently sprawling Pacific Northwest environment, a classic monster tale with pathos, and some genuinely incredible and surprising practical effects. So why did this movie leave me so...meh?



Two reasons: for one, this is a story that makes no bones about using indigenous folklore as its basis. So naturally, it's entirely about white people. Sure, we've got Graham Greene cashing a check to stop by and expound some exposition, but you can almost see the boredom in his eyes as he rushes through his expanded cameo. Apparently, there were some earnest efforts behind the scenes to stay true to First Nations culture, but it LITERALLY stayed behind the scenes. Here's an interview with filmmaker Scott Cooper about the process:

I had Native advisors for “Hostiles” [Cooper's previous film] as well, and for this particular film “Antlers,” I worked very closely with professor Grace Dillon from Portland State University, who is Native American and is the foremost authority on the Wendigo and has written extensively about it. So from writing the screenplay to the conception of the design of the Wendigo, she worked with me while I was shooting, to the final iteration of it, it was really important to me to have people who knew much more about it who were also of an indigenous culture help guide me.

That's great! But...like...did he not think it was weird that all this research was placed squarely on Caucasian characters? Look, I'm even whiter than Jesse Plemons so I can gracefully step back from a fight that isn't really mine, but it's genuinely shocking that a fairly mainstream release would be this blatantly...white in 2022.



The other issue I found with Antlers is more a matter of personal taste, and heck, maybe just had to do with my own mood but here goes: everyone and everything in the universe of this movie is sad. This is a town filled with haunted meth labs, abusive parents, recovering alcoholics, inefficient educators, nasty bullies, doomed skunks, and just for the fun of it, extremely gray weather that wraps up the misery with a hazy bow. Not every movie needs to be sing with joy like, I don't know, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, but every second of Antlers' runtime feels like the before part of an antidepressant medication commercial. The scares are a genuine relief.



High Points
Again, I do want to be clear that in terms of filmmaker, Antlers has a lot of quality going for it! Keri Russell and newcomer Jeremy Thomas do an achingly good job of conveying incredibly sad lives lived under a dark shadow of abuse



Low Points
Unfortunately, the script never seems to find the time to know what to do with all of the pain it spilled out in its first five minutes. Is this a story about drugs ravaging a small town, mental illness and alcoholism tearing families apart, or just how many people can die horrific deaths due to bad police training? It's too much, and not enough of any of it to add up to something satisfying



Lessons Learned
Teachers know everything (including the important food fact that ice cream is a vegetable)



Leatherface masks come in wendigo sizes

Who needs a school budget to invest in guidance counselors or therapists when any problem can be diagnosed through crayons?



Rent/Bury/Buy
If you love a wendigo story or crave a new monster design, Antlers is certainly worth a try. I found it frustrating not because it's a bad film, but because it simply could have been so much better. It's currently streaming on HBO Max.

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