‘Antlers’ Movie Review: Horror ‘Wendi-gone’ Wrong

Antlers is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. The movie suffered coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic delays after delivering an attention-grabbing marketing campaign in 2020. Antlers teases a long-awaited creature mythos, but Scott Cooper’s stylistic horror visuals aren’t enough to save the lacking screenplay he co-wrote with Henry Chaisson and Nick Antosca. It doesn’t come close to living up to the hype.

‘Antlers’ introduces Wendigo horror

'Antlers' star Keri Russell screaming in bed
Keri Russell | Kimberley French/20th Century Studios

Julia Meadows (Keri Russell) is a middle school teacher who moved back home to a small town in Oregon. She tries to come to terms with her past alongside her brother, Paul (Jesse Plemons). He’s the local sheriff, who has unresolved drama with Julia. They become concerned about the well-being of one of Julia’s students.

Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas) is an outcast in Julia’s class. He’s shorter and less physically developed than some of his peers. As a result, bullies target and harass him. However, nobody in town realizes that he’s living with quite a big secret. Lucas keeps a dangerous supernatural creature inside of his house.

‘Antlers’ is dead on arrival

'Antlers' stars Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, and Keri Russell walking down a hallway in the hospital
L-R: Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, and Keri Russell | Kimberley French/20th Century Studios

Antlers infuses its horror in a few ways. The most overt display of terror is in the living, breathing creature that lives in Lucas’ home. Cooper chooses to initially reveal what’s living in his attic fairly early, which is a wendigo. More horror movies should take a stab at featuring this supernatural creature. It has so much potential for some truly horrifying movies. Antlers keeps the threat of the wendigo looming throughout the entirety of the narrative.

The fear of parenting is a commonality between all of the main characters. Antlers displays the horror from both ends. Cooper shows the helplessness of being a child and the responsibility of being a parent. It feeds more heavily into the narrative’s dramatic elements and informs many of the characters’ motivations.

But, the horror and the drama need to come together. Cooper has one foot in each without truly marrying the two narrative elements. Ultimately, it’s not scary and it’s not dramatically compelling. The conclusion quickly tries to connect them, but it’s too little too late. Antlers breaks its own rules and leaves glaring plot holes.

The wendigo concept deserves better

'Antlers' actor Keri Russell with her arms crossed sitting across from drawing
Keri Russell | Kimberley French/20th Century Studios

Antlers never fully commits to its wendigo concept, despite the fact that it’s the movie’s most interesting component. The wendigo creature design is solid, but the mythology exploration is insufficient. The video game Until Dawn morphs the mythology but sees more success in crafting a narrative around it that is interesting and scary. Antlers doesn’t achieve either.

The dramatic elements don’t work here. The audience isn’t given a reason to care about Julia, Paul, or Lucas. Their drama serves the story’s themes over the narrative. Antlers goes to some very dark places, which Cooper amplifies with Florian Hoffmeister’s solid cinematography. The picture takes full use of shadows and generates some truly haunting imagery.

Antlers feels incomplete. It’s clear that substantial portions of this movie were left on the cutting room floor. The character arcs are unfinished. Cooper even mentioned at the post-screening Q&A that there are some scenes he would have added back in. Antlers has atmosphere, but it lacks impact in regards to both its drama and its horror. There’s an issue when the same jump scare is utilized three times in a row in the exact same location.

RELATED: ‘Malignant’ Movie Review: James Wan Makes a Bold Return to the Horror Genre