[Screen It]


(2021) (Keri Russell, Jeremy T. Thomas) (R)

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Horror: A middle school teacher becomes concerned about one of her troubled students, unaware that he's keeping something dangerous locked in his attic.

Julia Meadows (KERI RUSSELL) is a teacher from California who's now returned to her childhood hometown in Oregon. She's working at the local middle school, and is temporarily living with her brother, Paul (JESSE PLEMONS), the local sheriff of the town where the closed mine has led to increased drug use and addiction.

Of her students, Julia is most concerned about Lucas Weaver (JEREMY T. THOMAS), and not because he's bullied by the likes of Clint Owens (CODY DAVIS). Instead, it's that he appears to be showing clear signs of emotional trauma at home where he lives with his father, Frank (SCOTT HAZE), and younger son, Aiden (SAWYER JONES), although few have seen either of the last two of recent.

Lucas' violent drawings indicate something is amiss, so after hearing Julia's concerns, Principal Ellen Booth (AMY MADIGAN) decides to make a house visit. But that turns out to be a bad idea as something monstrous is locked in the attic, with Lucas bringing it whatever meat he can find. With Julia's concerns mounting, she, Paul, and others are in for an unpleasant surprise when they eventually learn what's locked away in that house.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

While I grew up with lots of WWII related books, photos, and such in the house -- what with having a father who served in the Navy during that time -- I think the first movie I saw about that was "Tora! Tora! Tora!" when it aired on TV, likely in 1971.

I was so enamored with the action sequences that I recreated them during school -- moment by moment and layer upon layer -- on a single sheet of paper. The result looked like a cacophony of mayhem and violence. So much so, apparently, that my teacher contacted my parents to make sure something disturbing wasn't going on at home that I seemingly was then symbolizing through my "art."

Of course, sometimes such expressions are clear indicators of a cry for help, and it's good that teachers and others who are around kids are aware of such signs and symptoms. That comes into play in "Antlers," a decent horror flick with a bad title that might have some wondering if it's a revenge-based sequel to "Bambi vs. Godzilla."

Instead, and as conceived by writer/director Scott Cooper and co-writers Henry Chaisson & Nick Antosca, the nearly 100-minute movie revolves around severely strained family dynamics that generate the horror. On one end, there's Julia Meadows (Keri Russell) who's returned to her childhood home in an Oregon mining town following her escape from there -- and her abusive father -- several decades ago. That past abuse has scared her in multiple ways, including feeling guilty about leaving her younger brother there -- now grown-up as Paul the sheriff (Jesse Plemons) -- to face the consequences as the suddenly lone outlet for their father's rage.

Fortunately for them, their father is no longer in the picture, which doesn't apply to the other end of the story and Frank Weaver (Scott Haze), who had a run-in with something scary and dangerous down in the town's long-abandoned mines. Now locked in the attic with his youngest son, Aiden (Sawyer Jones), he's relegated man of the house duties to his 12-year-old boy, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), who views his dad and sibling as currently being sick, but hopefully on the mend.

Until then, he expresses his emotional turmoil through his drawings and stories that have grabbed the attention of Julia, his middle-school teacher. As she slowly but surely begins to check on the boy and then his home environment -- eventually putting her at risk of encountering what's really up in the attic -- she must also contend with the feelings that such apparent domestic abuse dredge up from her past.

While much of this sort of material has been seen before in previous genre offerings, I liked the added parallels and related depth that Cooper and his colleagues have layered into the familiar story. And once the horror really starts firing on all cylinders, it's quite the gripping experience (including one of the biggest jump scenes I've experienced in years).

Featuring horror of varying kinds, it's always possible some kid who sees it will sketch his or her own re-creation of the film's events and thus draw the concerned eye of a teacher, just like happened a half-century ago with me. Decently executed but horribly named, "Antlers" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed October 19, 2021 / Posted October 29, 2021

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