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Antlers: Auteur Scott Cooper Sheds Realism

Posted by May 29th, 2022 No Comments »

Antlers (2021)
Directed by Scott Cooper
Starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons and introducing Jeremy T. Thomas

In his directorial debut, Crazy Heart (2009), director Scott Cooper told the story of alcoholism with grace and panache. In fact, Jeff Bridges finally won an Oscar for his role as Bad Blake. Cooper followed with three critically acclaimed films, each grounded in reality.

Why then, would Cooper diverge from this prestigious path and use a horror film trojan horse to expose the frightening effects of the opioid epidemic on rural America? Would it come across as an effective use of the genre? Or should he have used a more literal approach to tell this story, like Winter’s Bone (2010) or Little Woods (2018), each of which provided a frightening and realistic look at the tragedy of drug addiction in rural America?

Antlers is definitely frightening. It has plenty of scenes that cause cardiac arrest, but it also has heart. We are given a chance to live life as young Lucas Weaver, played with subtle sadness by first time actor Jeremy T. Thomas. He’s the kid at school with dirty clothes, a bruised body and a defeated soul. His only chance at salvation may be teacher Julia Meadows and her brother, Police Chief Paul Meadows. These savior figures are played with sincerity by Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons. The weight of responsibility on Lucas is crushing and we feel that weight through the young actor’s expressive face. Did we need the “Hey, this kid draws disturbing pictures at an almost gallery quality!” trope? I don’t think so. But the horror genre is notorious for assuming their audience isn’t smart enough; exposition via hand-drawn art is a quick way to make sure we are “getting it.”

When the film’s third act starts and the action begins, the tension is replaced with unpredictable jump scares. This is where Antlers really shines. Do the true horrors of the opioid crisis in rural, lower-class America shine through as well? Not really, but the real-life horror of this epidemic does seep through a little bit.

Cooper’s first try in the horror genre is no Blumhouse cash grab. He’s written four of his five films, so it’s clear that his vision consumes him. Antlers is a burgeoning auteur’s foray into a genre outside his forte. And it’s a very entertaining film.

If new modern horror classics from burgeoning auteur’s like Get Out (2017), Hereditary (2018), The Lodge (2019) and Gretel & Hansel (2020) are a a pair of A+’s and a pair of B-‘s respectively, then this 2021 film is a solid B.

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