Antlers’ Monster Uses a Jaws Horror Dread With a Joker Twist

WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Antlers, now in theaters.

One of the go-to aspects in modern horror and sci-fi is the Jaws formula Steven Spielberg pioneered. It involves teasing the monster, keeping the reveal until the end while using layers of human emotion, nuance and character portraits to create tension. Some films, such as Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla failed to replicate the method, but others like Cloverfield used it to great success. And this strategy ends up working for Scoot Cooper’s Antlers, but interestingly, as the film hits its finale, there’s a Joker twist added that actually makes it work perfectly.

Antlers is a slow burn that involves a meth-dealer Frank getting infected in an Oregon mine before going home where his two sons reside. He then becomes possessed by the spirit of a Wendigo and turns into the hoofed monster. But rather than selling his transformation out from the jump, the movie has him and the eventually-infected Aiden start locked in a room.

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There are scenes of Frank’s eyes and teeth through the keyhole, but it isn’t until the midway point when he eats a school administrator where the cannibalistic terror begins. And it’s clear this isn’t his final form, with things continuing to spiral until the Wendigo bursts out of Frank’s human shell. The movie then has the creature operate like the Jaws shark, stalking prey around town, such as the bully, Clint, and the cops, Dan and Paul. Even as it impales Dan, there’s no facial reveal. Similarly, in Jaws, most of the victims are simply seen being jerkily pulled underwater, leaving a crimson tinted ocean. It’s a smart move, as it leaves viewers building the creature in their imaginations rather than getting force-fed an image at the start.

Antlers even goes as far as to subvert the reveal at the end when Julia enters the mining cave to kill it. As it devours a bear and turns around, it wears Frank’s face. The face then gets stuck on the antlers and is hanging down, which ties into the wider theme of paternal abuse in the film, not just with Lucas but with Julia and her own dad.

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This, in a way, is reminiscent of Joker from Batman: Death of the Family, who had his face removed and wore the meat skin as a mask. It made the clown even more frightful. In Antler’s case, of course, mankind is the real monster — and as much as he’d have you believe, that is not necessarily the case with Joker. Antlers‘ Wendigo is out to kill people for hurting the planet, and by wearing Frank’s face, the audience sees a reflection of a broken man who failed his community.

What reaffirms the effectiveness of this choice is even after the face drops off, it’s hard to get over the image. This is proven when Julia loses her flashlight and has to use a flare to see, creating obscure cinematography where the front profile of the beast isn’t shown, outside of quick shots of beady eyes. Instead, only its side profile is visible, but by this point, the beast has done its job, proving true fear doesn’t always need a face.

See how the Wendigo’s reveal is subverted in Antlers, now in domestic theaters.

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