Every now and then a film comes along that I fall in love with straight away. When that happens I know that it is a film that I am going to watch over and over again and see something different in it with each viewing. That happened to me this weekend when I sat down to watch director Scott Cooper’s (Crazy Heart) brand new film Antlers.

I am not going to say that Antlers is an easy viewing. It’s not it is intense in both its confronting themes and storylines and graphic violence. It does feel weird that the director of amazing films like Crazy Heart and Get Low has made a confronting horror film – but he has and I found it to be one of the best horror films that I have seen over the past few years.

Set in a small, slowly dying town in Oregon Antlers begins with young Aiden Weaver (Sawyer Jones – Chicago Med) being attacked alongside his father, Frank Weaver (Scott Haze – Venom), by a creature at his father’s meth lab.

From there we then see Frank’s other son Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas – Lore) who is struggling in school, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teacher, Julia Meadows (Keri Russell – Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes). A victim of abuse herself Julia has returned to the town in order to mend the relationship with her brother, local Sherriff Paul Meadows (Jesse Plemons – Friday Night Lights), whom she feels despises her because she left him alone with their abusive father.

As Julia begins to reach out and help Lucas she begins to identify him as an abused child unaware that the actual horror that he is enduring. As she does she is forced to confront the abuse that she herself suffered while also trying to make Paul and her boss, Ellen Booth (Amy Madigan – Gone Baby Gone), interested in wanting to explore what is happening to Lucas.

It feels strange to say this about a horror film, but I found a true beauty in this film. Cooper does everything possible to make this film a cinematic experience. He along with his cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister (A Quiet Passion) delivers some beautiful landscapes of the supposed Oregon scenery (it is actually British Columbia). Their shots, which nearly always consist of overcast grey skies, rain and mist bring a bleakness to the film that matches the dark events and times that the town itself is going through.

I found that the atmosphere these shots create just adds to the natural feeling that Cooper creates with this film. In a way nature is the basis of this film, the horror itself is taken directly from Amerindian mythology, and as the screenplay (which is co-written by Cooper, Henry Chaisson (Breaker Breaker) and Nick Antosca (Brand New Cherry Flavor), explores that horror it also depicts some terrifying real-world ordeals in a truly natural way.

There is one point in this film where Paul is confronted by a truly horrific scene and instead of being a Hollywood stereotypical Sheriff who leaps from his car shooting from his hip he sits in his car mumbling under his breath unsure what to do. I remember at that point it hit me just how natural and real to life Cooper has made this film. I am surprised that more horror filmmakers haven’t realised that making your horror feel real just further enhances the suspense that the film carries. I’ll be honest, this film totally engrossed me and I found myself on the edge of my seat more times than I did through some films that have worked even harder to create a true atmosphere of suspense.

That natural feeling also flows into the performances of the cast. Kerri Russell is amazing as she portrays a concerned teacher dealing with the impact of the abuse in her own life while trying to actively help one of her students. She is well paired with Plemons who plays her on-screen sibling who is going through his own journey as a Sheriff completely out of his depth as he watches the town that he loves, yet craves to escape, fall into its own hell of despair and lost souls.

Then there is young Jeremy T. Thomas. Cooper calls for a lot from Thomas as an actor. He is in some horrific and graphic scenes that a kid so young wouldn’t even be able to watch on the screen and he does an amazing job. At times Thomas has to carry the film as its central character and he does without missing a beat, this simply just has to be one of the best child actor performances of 2021. He is a certain star of the future.

I found Antlers to be one of the best films of 2021 – in fact I would say that this is one of the best horror films of this decade. A brilliantly, natural screenplay that explores mythology and real-life horror in a graphic yet realistic way only enhances the beautifully bleak atmosphere created by the film’s visual landscape. A stunning horror that I can’t wait to revisit again.

5/5 Stars