As long as you feed The Beast and give it enough of what it wants, that might prevent it from harming others. That’s the prevailing message of Scott Cooper’s Antlers and it’s not a particularly fresh one as the foul stenches and stretches of the storyline play out. It attempts to balance body horror and creature feature elements with an abuse allegory and a tale of moral and environmental decay. With an assist from Guillermo del Toro on the production side, the pic ultimately bites off more than it can chew. This is also an issue for the title character terrorizer who leaves half devoured carcasses lying around.
The setting is the desolate Oregon town of Cispus Falls where lines for store front recovery centers appear to outnumber any other facade. In the opening, Frank Weaver (Scott Haze) has taken his youngest son Aiden (Sawyer Jones) his workplace of an abandoned mine shaft turned meth lab. Frank and his buddy leave the youngster waiting in the truck while they break up their bad deeds below. An attack by an unseen animal force begins the carnage that leaves longstanding marks on the Weaver family.
Flash forwarding above ground and weeks later, Aiden’s older brother Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) is an outcast who rushes to collect roadkill as his after school activity. Bringing the critters home with him, what lies behind a locked door shows the current condition of dad and Aiden. It’s not for the faint of heart or those who just feasted.
Lucas’s behavior catches the attention of his teacher Julia (Keri Russell). She’s recently moved back from California after two decades and in with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), who’s the Sheriff around these parts. The two share a caring but sometimes strained bond in their family home. Their mother passed long ago and their father more recently. Brief flashbacks and more expository dialogue reveal an abusive past. Julia recognizes signs of mistreatment in her pupil while not imagining the extent of it.
I did appreciate much about the atmospheric touches and gorgeous cinematography in Antlers – even if it’s focused on some grisly occurrences. The Weavers fall prey to an ancient Native American evil spirit known as a Wendigo which causes the cursed subjects to become cannibalistic and ravenous. This is mostly explained by the town’s ex-sheriff played by Graham Greene and it’s not a tale that the picture seems preoccupied in mining for material. There is a tone of seriousness that prevents this from ever becoming campy. Perhaps a little of that could have helped.
There’s no faulting the performances as Russell and Plemons commit and Thomas is believable as the malnourished child who must become an adult before he should. The problem lies with committing to too many ideas and giving the short shrift to all of them. There are worse flaws to be had and Antlers never feels like a regurgitation of previous works (though its themes are familiar). Devotees of highbrow horror might be satiated, but I found myself hungering for Cooper, del Toro, and company to pick a plot line and explore it a little more.
With a production assist from the king of creature features Guillermo del Toro, the supernatural horror tale Antlers crosses into theaters October 29th. From Black Widow and Hostiles director Scott Cooper, the pic is finally hitting screens a year and a half after its COVID postponement. Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, and Amy Madigan star.
The Searchlight pictures production has scored decent reviews and it stands at 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. Coming out Halloween weekend, Antlers is genre material in a market that’s been saturated with it. Last Night in Soho opens against it while Halloween Kills will be in its third frame.
Despite the mostly positive critical reaction, I don’t really see this registering with mainstream audiences. The competition won’t help and there’s no star power to draw crowds in. Furthermore the trailers and TV spots may make it look simply too strange to have widespread appeal. I could see this earning about as much as The Night House, which opened in August to a mere $2.9 million. If so, Antlers won’t approach the top five during its scary weekend.
A comic book origin story that often masquerades as an otherworldly buddy comedy, Venom will likely be remembered for the weirdly inspired performance of Tom Hardy and not much else. We’ve seen the title character before with Topher Grace in Spider–Man3. The alien creature made of black goo played as a superfluous extra villain in that picture. Now Venom is ready for his closeup.
Hardy is Eddie Brock, a San Francisco investigative reporter with a lovely DA fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams) and a penchant for asking one too many questions. He does just that with gazillionaire inventor Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who’s a beloved mogul in the community. He’s also, unbeknownst to the masses, experimenting on poor people with a mysterious alien life form that his company the Life Foundation discovered in outer space. Eddie’s inquires into these practices lead to his firing as a journalist and the dissolution of his romance.
A few months later as Eddie is down on his luck, one of Drake’s scientists spills the beans to him about further tomfoolery at the Foundation. This leads to a break-in at their research facility and one of those nasty and gooey extraterrestrials attaching themselves to Eddie. It turns out these visitors intend to destroy Planet Earth.
Yet we also find out that Eddie’s new inhabitant of his vessel has a sense of humor. And Hardy’s performance filled with strange noises, facial tics, and general bizareness makes for an often memorable duo. Venom himself is inside Eddie’s head constantly with what sounds like Christian Bale’s basement octave range from TheDarkKnight series. I’m really not sure if Hardy’s work here is what you’d call good, but it’s definitely not forgettable. He seems committed to whatever the heck he’s decided Brock/Venom is and that itself is fun.
Unfortunately there’s lots of other forgettable aspects to the movie itself. This would include lots of the dialogue, the action sequences, Williams as the love interest, and Ahmed as the bad guy. Important stuff generally. It’s also amusing how crystal clear it is that director Ruben Fleischer (who’s done better with Zombieland) and the screenwriters so want this to be rated R. I assume Sony said otherwise, but the script has to reach the absolute highest level of profanity and heads being bitten off without achieving the restricted tag. I will give the writers a thumbs up for setting this in San Francisco and avoiding the umpteenth climactic battle at the Golden Gate Bridge.
I can’t deny that Hardy’s bewildering and bewitching and sometimes annoying acting nearly make this worth of the price of admission. There’s just a bit too much muck attached to it.
Sony Pictures hopes to kick off a franchise and set an October opening record next weekend when Venom debuts. The picture’s namesake is an anti-hero spawned from the Spider-Man comics. Moviegoers first saw him in the form of Topher Grace in Spider–Man3. That rendering of the character didn’t sit too well with comic book aficionados.
The studio hopes this version changes that. Ruben Fleischer, best known for Zombieland, serves behind the camera. Playing Venom and his alter ego Eddie Brock is Tom Hardy. Costars include Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, and Woody Harrelson.
Sequels and spin-offs are hoped for and the marketing campaign has been pervasive. The reaction to trailers has been mostly positive, but word is that reviews won’t be published until the day before release. That’s not always a good sign. Similar buzz greeted SuicideSquad (among others) and it managed to meet expectations and gross $133 million in its first weekend. That stands as the largest August debut ever.
The correlation is that Venom could do the same in October, but estimates aren’t as high here. This is expected to gross between $60-$70 million. Even if it reached the low-end of that spectrum, this would top October record holder Gravity at $55 million. I’ll note that Halloween (out October 19) also stands a solid shot at exceeding that.
My feeling is this will meet projections, but on the lower end of the spectrum. How it performs in subsequent weekends will be dependent on buzz and that may be the biggest indicator on whether Sony gets its longed for cinematic universe.