Coal Miner’s Slaughter

Just in time for Halloween is “Antlers”- an impressively efficient monster movie that earns its scares through skillful storytelling and an eerie atmosphere of awakening evil.

 Keri Russell stars as Julia, a grade-school teacher who returns to the Oregon hometown she fled years before due to her father’s physical abuse. Reuniting with the brother she abandoned, local sheriff Paul (Jesse Plemons), both live together in their childhood home.

 At school, Julia takes notice of student Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas) appearing physically pale and pained. In Lucas’ desk, Julia finds disturbing pictures he has drawn depicting bloodily dismembered bodies. As a former victim of abuse, Julia feels Lucas is suffering the same fate and brings her concern not only to Paul but also Principal Booth (Amy Madigan).

 Lucas’ renderings soon become real. While Paul is summoned to investigate mutilated human remains found in nearby woods, Principal Booth visits Lucas’ home. Strange animalistic noises coming from within the Weaver property force Principal Booth to enter. Finding the source of the noises, Principal Booth unwittingly unleashes evil into the town.

 More mutilated bodies begin to appear. Paul’s investigations lead him to an abandoned coal mine and the folklore of a malevolent spirit known as the Wendigo, who possesses humans in a cannibalistic quest for blood. Unable to quench its thirst, the more blood the human consumes the more it transforms into the fabled creature. The Wendigo’s signature adornment? Antlers.

 Based on Nick Antosca’s short story “The Quiet Boy” (co-writing the script with Henry Chaisson and director Scott Cooper (“Black Mass,” “Crazy Heart”), “Antlers” is also co-produced by Guillermo Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) and David S. Goyer (who wrote “The Dark Knight” and “Blade II”): the movie’s stacked behind-the-scenes with fantasy aficionados. Add a make-up and special effects crew whose past credits include “Avengers: Endgame,” “Aqauaman,” Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” and “Terminator: Dark Fate” and you’ve got good-looking, gory man-to-monster transformations.  

 Set in a dying Northwestern coal mining town, “Antlers” atmosphere is appropriately foggy, gloomy and rainy to set the right mood. The actors believably sell their situation, particularly Thomas as Lucas- the long-suffering student with a secret. As far as pacing, Cooper’s taut direction allows “Antlers” to breeze through its 99 minute run time.

 “Antlers” also reminded me of classic horror movies: killings as brutal and sudden as “Jaws,” transformation scenes like “An American Werewolf in London” and Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” full-bodied creatures like the Queen in “Aliens” with a human face mask like “Texas Chainsaw’s” Leatherface- intentional or not, it provides great monster movie memories.  

Complete with an unexpected and unnerving end, “Antlers” may be your sleeper scare this Halloween season. At the very least, director Scott Cooper’s concocted a nifty little nightmare.

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