We tend to develop the monsters we deserve. The Loch Ness Monster, which lives not far from my house, is generally understood to be a benevolent creature, best left to her own devices. Summoned through a trans-dimensional portal at Boleskine House by Aleister Crowley and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, Nessie is something of a symbol of Scotland’s rich historical past. Other countries have their own mythical creatures; Scott Cooper’s horror film Antlers focuses on the Wendigo, which seems to generally haunt the North American Plains and unlike Nessie, the Wendigo portrayed here seems to be an evil-assed monster.
With Guillermo Del Toro producing, you’d expect Antlers to have quite a developed backstory for the creature in question, but aside from Graham Greene showing up for an exposition-cramming cameo, there’s not much explanation here. The Wendigo shown here is an evil spirit, angry at mankind stealing from him, but the motivations don’t really make much difference; it’s just another monster to slay. That’s a shame, because Antlers is rich in atmosphere (the setting is rural Oregon), well acted and has a professional sheen to it. Schoolteacher Julia Meadows (Keri Russell) and her cop brother Paul (Jesse Plemons) discover that a traumatised school-boy has lost family members to the Wendigo and track it to a mine-shaft lair. And that’s about as far as Antlers goes.
Antlers didn’t make much impression on a US box-office that offers slim pickings for new IP in 2021, and it’s not helped by a po-faced exhuming of horror clichés like the vibrant crayon drawings that the kid does of himself, trapped in the monster’s clutches. The creature itself is fairly fearsome, and Cooper does well to keep the stakes low, although the lack of real plot development proves an issue. The nature of the beast, an Algonquin spirit that can move from body to body, is interesting enough, but there’s not much scope for action with such a small cast.
Antlers is a more than watchable horror flick, with personable leads, a decent sub-Stephen King backdrop, and a few allusions to social critique; the meth-lab culture of this desolate small town seems to be reason enough for nature to seek vengeance. But the bar has risen in terms of what we expect from monsters these days; the Wendigo doesn’t do enough here to justify a movie all of it’s own.