Cispus Falls, Oregon, a town Julia Meadows fled as soon as she was old enough, returning only now following the death of her father. Staying with her brother, Sheriff Paul Meadows, in the house in which they grew up, every corner and shadow is filled with painful memories which she has spent her adult life trying to overcome, things they will not talk about even each other.
A teacher, she is aware of the signs of abuse and is concerned about twelve year old Lucas Weaver, skinny, quiet, wearing ill-fitting clothes which should have been patched or thrown out long ago; talking to her brother and Principal Ellen Booth, a picture of the family emerges which confirms her reasons to be fearful, but the discovery of a partially devoured body in the forest followed by the disappearance of another of her students is the start of a horror beyond what she could have imagined.
The mist rolling down from the mountains towards the town over a plateau stripped bare of trees where the abandoned site of the Greymount Mining Company stands, Cispus Falls is a town in decline, imbued with a sense of helplessness which rapidly decays to a malign dread despite the valiant efforts of Julia (Dark Skies’ Keri Russell), her brother Paul (Battleship’s Jesse Plemons) doing his best to keep the town on an even keel as it goes down.
Directed by Hostiles’ Scott Cooper from a script co-written with Henry Chaisson and Nick Antosca, Antlers is based on Antosca’s short story The Quiet Boy, Lucas (Jeremy T Thomas in a feature debut which marks him as a name to remember) already beyond conventional help, a child who sits alone in class, wary of those around him, of attention, always thinking of what he must do to survive and protect his family whose hunger demands freshly killed meat.
The stories of Julia and Lucas tied by their respective family histories, she determined to give him the support which she never had, refusing to accept the possibility of failure or give in to the ever-present temptation of the oblivion of the bottle, Antlers is equally tied to the landscape of the American northwest, shaped by the indigenous myths which she teaches to her students, warnings masquerading as fairy tales.
Cooper making the best of his locations and cast which includes Carnivàle‘s Amy Madigan and Wynonna Earp‘s Michael Eklund, there are monsters in everyone, waiting either to escape or forced to trade one cage for another, Antlers is tense and grim, unremitting and unsettling, punctuated by the cries of the beast of the forest as it seeks the lost, the weak and the depraved.