Rating: 4 out of 5.

After being delayed countless times as a result of the 2020 pandemic, wendigo creature feature Antlers is finally here! In my opinion, this chilling dark horror fable was fully worth the laboriously long wait. From top to bottom (including an excellent atmospheric score from Pan’s Labyrinth composer Javier Navarrete), Antlers explodes on the screen with impeccable creature design and sound mixing. Children in peril take on a new meaning as lead child Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) goes from slightly damaged youth to emotionally-wrecked beyond recovery. Keri Russell leads the film as a devoted teacher who will go to hell and back for her student…

Do you think you could kill something you love? This is the central question pondered, mainly for 12-year-old Lucas as he is forced to aide his very sick father. A worker (and resident meth addict) at Greymouth Mining, Frank (Scott Haze) is prepping for the big opening, as mountaintop mining is now all the rage. Hearing weird noises in the allegedly abandoned mines, Frank is bitten by something hiding deep within the caves. A decrepit mine lit only by the light of the flare Frank is using gives us a chilling first glimpse at the film’s horrific signature wendigo creature. Three weeks later after being bitten by the thing, Frank is undergoing a transformation that requires him to be locked in the attic. “I just have to feed him and he’ll love me,” Lucas hypothesizes, bringing home gory roadkill for his dad to devour. Younger brother Aiden (Sawyer Jones) seems to have something not quite right with him as well and is also not enrolled at school. Lucas is forced to grow up overnight, taking control of his impossible home situation while juggling a bully at school and the growing concerns of his teacher, Julia (Russell).

Meanwhile, Julia races against time to help Lucas the only way she knows how. As the tangled web of mysteries snake their way into Julia’s brain, she grows closer to the truth, attempting to utilize the help of her older brother, Paul (Jesse Plemons), and his sheriff badge. She tries to connect with Lucas, following him and buying Lucas ice cream—Lucas does not seem receptive to Julia’s various attempts to befriend him. Despite his distance, Julia is relentless in unearthing the truth behind Lucas’s circumstances. She reconstructs a creepy torn-up sketch, and tries her damndest to convince others that the boy truly needs help. Russell is great, and relative newcomer Jeremy T. Thomas turns out a raw, singular performance. As Russell’s Julia inches closer to the shocking truths, the carnage helps to ratchet up the tension. I had to laugh when Julia arrives at Lucas’s home, gets to the door, hears a concerning grunting noise coming from inside, and promptly books it out of there.

Produced by iconic creative maven Guillermo del Toro and based upon the short story “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca, Antlers matches Toro’s wildest sensibilities with Cooper’s stylistic directorial flourishes. The physical manifestation of trauma, coping with childhood abuse, and indigenous cultural demons set Antlers apart from one’s standard horror flick. Yes, it may be gory, but Antlers has more on its mind than one would expect. A bone-crunching, stomach-turning transformation highlights impressive special effects and uncomfortable mood-setting filmmaking. The whole affair feels soaked in a cannibalistic layer of grime. The few jump scares featured actually startled me—furthermore, the entire shed sequence is masterful. The closest thing I can compare tonally would be to say that Antlers is the Pet Sematary spin-off I never knew I needed. This movie goes to some dark and horrifying extremes sure to alienate those seeking traditional happy endings. For this viewer, the bleakness only further sells this violent, memorable creature-feature.

Antlers charges at you when it finally heads exclusively to theaters on Friday, October 29th.

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