Established in the admittedly uninspired cold open, and then continued throughout the film, was a firm grasp on the tone and atmosphere of the world in which the story unfolds. The grey colours and fantastic shots of mountainous forests give the setting an eerie and isolated feel throughout. The depiction of a dreary mining town suffocated by lack of industry further plays into the moody aesthetic of the film, and in itself captivates viewers in the (MANY) quieter moments throughout the 100-minute run time. The cinematography was noticeably well done and probably deserved better than what it ended up accompanying.
Antlers does struggle to get going, character introductions often featured hamfisted exposition, much of it information that has already been told visually. It feels like, despite the competent storytelling happening in the background, the film doesn’t want to take any risks, or doesn’t trust the audience to be paying enough attention to what is unfolding. The characters and pacing do find their feet in the second act but it is frustrating that the confidence here isn’t demonstrated earlier.
The actors do what they can with the clunky dialogue early on, with experienced leads Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons especially doing well to convey the complex and somewhat estranged relationship of the film’s adult protagonist siblings. Russell in particular may feel hard done, with much of her physical acting being undermined by the aforementioned needless exposition.
Structurally the film left me with mixed feelings, on the one hand the film is SLOW with a focus on the dark, brooding shots of the landscape rather than dialogue or action. It can feel too slow at times whilst watching but looking back I do not feel like these sections were wasted, instead building up to the fast flashes of action at various points throughout. They feel more earned this way, the film is not content with throwing 50 different jump scares at the viewer like many horror flicks in recent years.
In fact, some of my favourite scenes were the quiet investigations of the aftermath to the scares, where the film really flexes its special effects. The gore is incredible, not because of the gratuitous blood sprays and deaths but rather the depiction of bodies decimated by something. There is a sense of power and brutality here that is more unsettling than just watching a monster simply rampage around. It is sad then that the film botches its final showdown. Not only is it a very brief anti-climax, but it also doesn't match up at all with the scale of the creature’s power which we have seen building up the whole time. We finally see the monster in all its beautifully designed glory, but only for a flash, and then it's over. Maybe the team wanted audiences to focus more on the emotional arc between Keri Russell and the talented young actor Jeremy T. Thomas, but the creature was always going to be a key factor in drawing audiences in and without a payoff the end feels rushed.
Overall, Antlers is engaging enough to be better than many of its seasonal counterparts but frustrates as the talent in front of and behind the camera clearly had so much more to offer. Worth a watch for horror fans interested in a more story-driven slow burn, but not the quick and easy fright-fest one might expect on their way in.