Release Date(s)2021 (January 4, 2022)
Studio(s)TSG Entertainment/Searchlight Pictures (20th Century Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C+
Antlers is an effective if somewhat disjointed horror film that fuses Wendigo folklore into a story of familial dysfunction and abuse. The Native American myth of the Wendigo is a potent one: a malevolent spirit than can possess others and cause an insatiable hunger for human flesh. It's also a potent metaphor that's been used to represent different things in a variety of stories, but whether or not it's applicable to the core narrative of Antlers is a fair question.
The screenplay for Antlers was written by director Scott Cooper along with Henry Chaisson and Nick Antosca, based on the short story The Quiet Boy by Antosca. Julia (Keri Russell) is a middle school teacher in a rural Oregon town who suspects that a nervous and reticent young boy in her class (Jeremy T. Thomas) might be the victim of abuse. She and her brother (Jesse Plemons) had also been victims of abuse as children, and since he's now the sheriff, she tries to enlist his help to intervene. Unfortunately, he's busy investigating a series of mutilated bodies that are showing up around the town, but since there are malevolent forces at work, their two paths will inevitably cross.
In narratives like the late Antonia Bird's gloriously unrestrained film Ravenous, the Wendigo myth is used to amplify the core themes. In that case, the greed for human flesh perfectly mirrored the greed inherent in the concept of manifest destiny—Native American folklore ended up finding its embodiment in the ravenous consumption of Native lands by white settlers. With the story in Antlers, however, the Wendigo myth coexists uneasily with the themes of abuse. There are really two different stories in Antlers, neither of which fully gels with each other.
In the end, Antlers remains a competently crafted horror film, with a genuinely imposing monster at its center. Guillermo Del Toro served as one of the producers, and he lent his expertise to help design this embodiment of the Wendigo. While it arguably strays a bit from its Native American roots, it's still one of the most impressive visualizations of the spirit seen on film (though it's worth noting that Ravenous managed to work its magic without ever bothering to show a literal monster). Antlers may not have any real thematic coherency, but it's still entertaining enough when viewed as a simple creature feature. Sometimes, that's enough.
Cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister captured Antlers digitally at 6K using Sony CineAlta Venice full-frame cameras. The film was finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate, and framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. This is yet another native 4K Fox Searchlight production for which Disney has declined to release an Ultra HD version, but fortunately this Blu-ray presentation is a strong one. The image is extremely sharp for 1080p, with a nice amount of fine detail in facial features, as well as in other textures like clothing or gravel. The contrast range is good, at least in the daylight sequence, but scenes captured in lower light suffer from elevated black levels and flatter contrast, with limited shadow detail. That appears to be an intentional compromise during shooting, as the lack of noise indicates that Hoffmeister chose not to push the ISO to compensate for low lighting. The color balance tends to be cool, reserving its brighter shades for a few key sequences, but it’s an effective way to convey the ominous mood of the film.
Primary audio is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. It’s an atmospheric mix that also does a nice job of supporting the oppressive look of the visuals. Antlers relies on off-screen sounds throughout the film in order to keep viewers off balance—not just from the surrounds, but also from the main left and right speakers. The imaging of those sound effects is quite precise. There’s a decent quantity of deep bass, especially with the low droning tones that are used to create unease. Javier Navarrete’s score integrates well with the rest of the mix, working in harmony with the effects to maintain the unsettling atmosphere.
Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, and Spanish.
The following extras are included, all in HD (aside from the Comic-Con interview which is upscaled):
- The Evil Within (5:43)
- An Exploration of Modern Horror with Guillermo Del Toro (3:03)
- Artifacts and Totems (2:40)
- Gods Walk Among Us (6:24)
- Cry of the Wendigo (3:07)
- Metamorphosis (3:12)
- Comic-Con@Home with Scott Cooper and Guillermo Del Toro (41:15)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:38)
The majority of the extras are brief EPK-style featurettes that don’t have enough time to explore their subject matter in any depth. The Evil Within looks at Cooper’s vision for the film. An Exploration of Modern Horror with Guillermo Del Toro is certainly a promising title, but at just three minutes long, it’s not much of an exploration. Artifacts and Totems examines the settings, locations, and art direction. Gods Walk Among Us is a bit more interesting, showing the design process for the creature, and how the final design combined practical effects with CGI. Cry of the Wendigo is a simplistic discussion of Native American folklore, but it does include interviews with some of the First Nation consultants to the picture. Metamorphosis looks at the physical transformation that Scott Haze underwent for his role, from weight loss to makeup effects. Comic-Con@Home is the real meat and potatoes of the extras: a forty-minute Zoom interview with Scott Cooper and Guillermo Del Toro, moderated by Steve Weintraub from Collider. After a few minutes breaking the ice by talking about potential projects that would interest them, and filmmaking in general, they dive into specifics regarding Antlers. They discuss what the film means to them; the importance of having Native American consultants; the uncomfortable scene with a child; and the process of developing camerawork. (Del Toro also proclaims his love of physical media, which is always appreciated.)
Antlers aspires to be something more than what it is, and misses that mark, but the reality is that there’s nothing wrong with just being a monster movie. Viewed from that angle, it’s a successful film, even if it may fail as social commentary.
- Stephen Bjork