Scott Cooper is quite an interesting filmmaker. After directing Jeff Bridges to an Oscar with his debut Crazy Heart, Cooper chose to delve into genre with Out of the Furnace, and he’s never really looked back. That crime-thriller led to a real-life gangster flick (Black Mass) and a Western (Hostels), and with Antlers, Cooper is now full on into horror mode. Not only that, but Cooper brought along producer Guillermo del Toro (or vice versa?), who has helped define the idea of “prestige horror,” converting his own interest in monsters and horror into his very own Oscar.
Antlers takes place in a small mining town in Oregon where we get a prologue of a young boy having to wait in the pick-up truck, while his father, Frank Weaver (Scott Haze), goes into the mine, seemingly to pillage whatever he can with a friend, the two of them being attacked by an unseen creature. Months later, 12-year-old Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas) is at school where he’s being mercilessly bullied. His new teacher Julia Meadows (Keri Russell) is worried about the boy’s general welfare and wonders where his father and younger brother are. They happen to be locked in the attic of Lucas’ house, and they are not well. When a body is found in the woods, the town sheriff, who happens to be Julia’s brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), becomes suspicious of Lucas’ missing father and his possible involvement.
Antlers is based on a short story called “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca, which Cooper adapted with the author from an original screenplay by C. Henry Chaisson. As with any good horror movie, the setting and environment are integral, and it’s impossible not to ignore the poverty and joblessness and drug addiction that permeates this Oregon town. This is territory Cooper has explored before, most notably in Out of the Furnace, but in this case, we see how it affects the children of those with an addiction.
Cooper goes for a slow build on this one, particularly in the way he introduces the characters and explores their relationships for much of the first act before introducing any of the film’s supernatural elements. This might not be the best way to pull in modern horror fans who may be looking for constant scares and chills to feed their ADHD. Russell and Plemons and ringers like Amy Madigan do a fine job maintaining the character-building aspects of what Cooper is doing in Antlers. It also probably won’t be too big a shocker that del Toro wanted to be involved, since he’s also explored similar territory with Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, both which involved children in horrible circumstances who drift towards the fantastic and the supernatural, because that’s easier for them to register and explain than other real-life horrors.
Fortunately, when Cooper does horror, he does not mess around, as Antlers is far scarier and gorier than anything anyone might be expecting, and there are many key departments that helped in that regard. Horror movies tend to give the art department a lot of room to play with their imaginations, and in that sense, Production Designer Tim Grimes and his team may have had the most fun with the dank cave-like mines below the town and also in designing and dressing the Weaver house.
It feels like Cooper decided to do a lot of things practically, and that allows the hair and makeup departments, led by Naomi Bakstad and Jessica Rain, respectively with the able abilities of Holland Miller and LSFX doing the special makeup effects, to go whole hog on the makeup and hairstyling used to slowly transform Lucas and his family over the course of the film. Antlers also has some of the best creature design I’ve seen in quite a few decades, bar none, when we do finally get to see the creature(s), which are tied to Native American myths.
DoP Florian Hoffmeister (The Terror) gives the film the requisite spookiness in some of the dark spaces like the aforementioned mine and Weaver home, but Cooper’s real secret weapon is two-time Oscar-nominated Editor Dylan Tichenor ACE (Zero Dark Thirty, There Will be Blood) who helps keep the pace from dragging too much by cutting between the various characters’ subplots, never allowing one to dominate.
Another key factor for any horror movie truly working (in my book) is the music, and the score by Oscar nominee Javier Navarrete (Pan’s Labyrinth) does a good job emphasizing the scares and when a viewer’s pulse should pick up, but he also knows that sometimes all it takes is a simple piano melody to underscore a more emotional character-driven moment. Antlers’ sound effects also are important in making the creatures more horrifying when you don’t get to see them, but it’s also how these elements are mixed and how effects are applied by the sound department that really makes it more effective.
In other words, Scott has assembled an extremely well-crafted horror film with Antlers, one that’s scary and gory and offers everything the horror enthusiast might want, but also one with slower-paced character moments that might frustrate some.
Antlers will open in theaters nationwide on Friday, August 29.
All photos courtesy and copyright 20th Century Studios; Photographer Kimberley French.