Tag Archives: horror movies

Fright Club: Addiction Horror

Addiction is its own horror story, which may explain why so many filmmakers use monstrous imagery as metaphor for addiction. We count down the best horror films that use addiction to freak you out.

5. Enter the Void (2009)

Gaspar Noe films from the point of view of Oscar, an American who deals drugs in Tokyo.  When Oscar is shot in a police raid, the camera follows his subconscious as Noe tries to illustrate a nightmarish link between drugs and death.

Noe’s trademarks – jarring opening credits, roller coaster camerawork, extended takes – are all here, and the result is a nearly two-and-a-half hour barrage of extreme violence, graphic sex, drug-fueled hallucinations and an often hypnotizing gloom that may leave you feeling physically beaten. It’s an experience. But like most of Noe’s work, it’s also hard to turn away from, even if you want to.

4. Habit (1995)

Writer/director/star Larry Fessenden explores alcoholism via vampire symbolism in this NY indie. Fessenden plays Sam, a longtime drunk bohemian type in the city. He’s recently lost his father, his longtime girlfriend finally cut bait, and he runs into a woman who is undoubtedly out of his league at a party.

And then he wakes up naked and bleeding in a park.

The whole film works beautifully as an analogy for alcoholism without crumbling under the weight of metaphor. Fessenden crafts a wise, sad vampiric tale here and also shines as its lead.

3. The Addiction (1995)

Like most of director Abel Ferrara’s work, the film is an overtly stylish, rhythmically urban tale of brutal violence, sin and redemption (maybe). Expect drug use, weighty speeches and blood in this tale of a doctoral candidate in philosophy (Lili Taylor) over-thinking her transformation from student to predator.

Taylor cuts an interesting figure as Kathleen, a very grunge-era vampire in her jeans, Doc Martens and oversized, thrift store blazer. She’s joined by an altogether awesome cast—Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco and Christopher Walken among them.

Ferrara parallels Kathleen’s need for blood to drug addiction, but uses her philosophy jibberish to plumb humanity’s historical bloodlust.

2. Evil Dead (2013)

With the helpful pen of Oscar winner Diablo Cody (uncredited), Fede Alvarez turns all the particulars of the Evil Dead franchise on end. You can tick off so many familiar characters, moments and bits of dialog, but you can’t predict what will happen.

One of the best revisions is the character of Mia: the first to go and yet the sole survivor. An addict secluded in this cabin in the woods with her brother and friend specifically to detox, she’s the damaged one, and the female who’s there without a male counterpart, which means (by horror standards), she’s the one most likely to be a number in the body count, but because of what she has endured in her life she’s able to make seriously tough decisions to survive – like tearing off her own damn arm. Nice!

Plus, it rains blood! How awesome is that?!

1. Resolution (2012)

Michael (Chris Cilella) is lured to a remote cabin, hoping to save his friend Chris (Vinny Curan) from himself. Chris will detox whether he wants to or not, then Michael will wash his hands of this situation and start again with his wife and unborn baby.

But Michael is in for more than he bargained, and not only because Chris has no interest in detoxing. Directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (working from Benson’s screenplay) begin with a fascinating and bizarre group of characters and a solid story, layering on bizarre notions of time, horror and storytelling in ways that are simultaneously familiar and wildly unique. The result is funny, tense, and terrifying.

And Scream Again

Scream

by Hope Madden

A quarter-century ago, horror master Wes Craven reinvented his genre of choice—again—with a savvy, funny, scary murder mystery. Scream was an inside-out spoof of the genre, a clever dissection of the tropes and cliches wrapped up in a celebration of those same elements.

It was not our first meta-movie, but it was the first movie to refer to itself as such.

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) return to Woodsboro for the franchise’s fifth installment. This go-round comments blisteringly (and entertainingly) not just on horror, but on the post-internet realities of cinema in general.

They really have a good time with that.

Tara Carpenter (the first of maybe 300 horror name drops), played by a remarkable Jenna Ortega, is home alone when she receives a threatening phone call. She doesn’t want to talk about slashers, though. She’d rather discuss “elevated horror.”

That’s an in-joke, one of dozens, each landing but none taking away from the larger story. In that one, Tara’s older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera, In the Heights) returns to Woodsboro upon hearing of Tara’s attack. She follows advice from someone who would know and assembles Tara’s close-knit ring of friends to suss out suspects.

But to really anchor these newfangled reboot/sequels (or, in the parlance of another inside gag, “requels”), Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin will need some familiar faces. Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette are three excellent reasons to see the new Scream, a film that is both a fan of the franchise and a cynic of fandom.

The young cast excels as well—Dylan Minnette and Jasmin Savoy Brown, in particular. In fact, Barrera in the central role is the only real weak spot. As was the case in In the Heights, she poses more than acts, a flaw that’s never more obvious than when she shares the screen with the noticeably more talented Ortega.

The filmmakers, along with writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, fill scenes with nostalgia too cheeky to be simple fan service. Their clear affection for the franchise (a surprisingly strong set of films, as horror series go) is evident and infectious.

You do not have to know the 1996 original or any of its sequels to enjoy Scream. It’s a standalone blast. But if you grew up on these movies, this film is like a bloody message of love for you.

Into the Woods

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror

by Hope Madden

Every so often you come across a movie and think it must have been made specifically for you. In my case, that film is Kier-La Janisse’s 3-hour documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror.

Yes, that does seem like a very big time commitment to folk horror, but Janisse’s film repays your undertaking with not only an incredibly informative documentary but an engaging, creepy and beautifully made film.

Dividing her topic into chapters, Janisse portions out information theme by theme. And while this essay-style documentation is driven by expert commentary, the filmmaker surrounds the scholarly material with beguiling imagery.

Every chapter has its own look and feel, each one opening with an appropriately bewitching bit of rhyme. Then it leads you through a clearly articulated and fairly comprehensive examination of certain moments in folk horror. Janisse opens on the big three, The Unholy Trinity–Blood on Satan’s Claw, Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man—as a way to ease us into the conversation by pinning major themes on well-known films.

She goes on to explore TV and written tales tangentially, though her focus is always primarily on film, taking us from The Wicker Man through Midsommar. In between, she introduces dozens of underseen films and traces not only the history of folk horror but the societal anxieties that these films represent.

And while many may think mainly of British films of the 1960s and 70s for this category, Janisse presents an intriguing global history that unveils universal primal preoccupations from England to Argentina, the US to Lapland and beyond.

Dry as that may sound, between the snippets of the movies themselves and the fluid, often creepy presentation, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched becomes as transfixing a film as those it dissects. And it digs deep, into obscure titles new and old. Border! White Reindeer! Onibaba! Viy! Prevenge!

Bonus: You can find a gorgeous array of folk horror streaming on Shudder this month, including The Wicker Man, Blood on Satan’s Claw and Witchfinder General.

There are so many, you can’t blame even a 3-hour film for leaving some out. Here are a few masterpieces glimpsed but not discussed and well worth your time:

And even then, there are some favorites not discussed at all that you might want to check out:

How can three hours of folk horror discussion not be enough? It’s a question that points to what may be the greatest strength of Janisse’s film. Like any truly strong documentary, her film not only covers its topic comprehensively, it inspires you to dig deeper on your own time.

The Truth Is Not Out There

The Scary of Sixty-First

by Hope Madden

At some point during The Scary of Sixty-First you may ask yourself, “What in the hell am I watching?” Don’t feel alone. In fact, if you don’t ask that question, you may be the only one.

Director/co-writer/co-star Dasha Nekrasova mines the weak logic of many Satanic horror films to marvel at the subjective reality that’s so prevalent these days.

Noelle (co-writer Madeline Quinn) and Addie (Betsey Brown) move into an uptown NYC apartment. It’s furnished, simultaneously high end and sketchy, and they’re getting it for a song because the previous tenants had to leave so quickly.

Ripe horror context there. Who were they? Why did they have to leave so quickly? Why did they leave behind all this stuff? Why is there a mirror on the ceiling in one bedroom?

The cinematic style, stilted performances and uptown apartments blur together to form a kind of Seventies-style horror like The Sentinel or The Mephisto Waltz. The most important element: wild leaps in logic—anagrams, prime numbers, cryptic messages.

Conspiracies.

Did the girls’ apartment previously belong to Jeffrey Epstein? Some people say so, specifically the young woman who poses as a realtor’s agent and then as an investigative reporter before finally fessing up that she’s piecing together her own theories about Epstein.

Noelle is in! The sleuthing is on!

Addie, on the other hand, is having some kind of breakdown. Is something in the apartment haunting her? Possessing her?

Nekrasova and Quinn weave together real conspiracy theories about Epstein and other topics to create a fever dream of horror that points out how preposterous and salacious all these theories really are. How these theories speak more to the mind of the believer than to any kind of reality.

Nekrasova is actually pretty empathetic toward conspiracy theorists, even if she clearly thinks they are 1) wrong and 2) probably insane. The film offers bold, wet, pungent lunacy, vivid fantasies pulled from the collective unconscious of folks ready to believe—or imagine—the most effed up scenarios.

Chances are strong that, between the intentionally flat performances and the supremely WTF plotline, The Scary of Sixty-First will not land with most audiences. But it’s a wild vision and I’m not sorry I caught it.

Fright Club: Best Horror Movies of 2021

Big year! In fact, horror may have saved movies this year. That’s what lured people back to cinemas —A Quiet Place Part II, Candyman and other genre films. And even though we don’t entirely consider Last Night in Soho a horror film, Edgar Wright’s giddy take on giallo was a blast in the theater.

But horror also flooded streaming services, where you could find some of the most amazing bloody treasures in 2021: Jakob’s Wife and Fried Barry made you glad you had a Shudder subscription, and Double Walker proved true indie horror was alive and well.

It took some time to boil it down, but here are our 10 favorite horror films of 2021.

10. Titane

Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning Titane is alive with alternating color palettes, pulsating sounds and endless shocks of body horrific visuals. The sudden bursts of violence are downright pedestrian alongside the parade of boldly squirm-inducing clashes of flesh, bone and other.

But as she did with her first feature, Raw, Ducournau finds humanity clawing out from the inhumane. Truly unforgettable performances from Vincent Lindon and Agathe Russell provide intimate examples of the extremes that even the most damaged souls are capable of in the search to care and be cared for.

It may not be shy about homages and influences, but Titane is indeed its own ferocious animal. Open the cage look the F out.

9. Caveat

The room is dark, decrepit. A wild-eyed woman with a bloody nose holds a toy out in front of her like a demon slayer holds a crucifix. The toy – what is it, a rabbit? A jackalope? – beats a creepy little drum. Faster. Slower. Hotter. Colder.

This is how writer/director Damian Mc Carthy opens Caveat and I am in. An expertly woven tapestry of ambiguity, lies and misunderstanding sink the story into a fog of mystery that never lets up. McCarthy unveils a real knack for nightmarish visuals, images that effortlessly conjure primal fears and subconscious revulsion.

Mc Carthy does a lot with very little, as there are very few locations and a total of three cast members—all stellar. You won’t miss the budget. Mc Carthy casts a spook house spell, rattling chains and all, and tells a pithy little survival story while he’s at it.  

8. Psycho Goreman

Endlessly quotable and boasting inspired creature design and a twisted Saturday Morning Kidventure tone, Psycho Goreman is a blast

Fans of writer/director Steven Kostanski’s 2016 breakout The Void (a perfect blend of Lovecraft and Halloween 2) might not expect the childlike lunacy and gleeful brutality of Psycho Goreman (PG for short), but they should. His 2012 gem Father’s Day (not for the easily offended) and his 2011 Manborg define not only his tendencies but his commitment to tone and mastery of his material.

His ensemble here works wonders together, each hitting the comedic beats in Kostanski’s script hard enough that the goretastic conclusion feels downright cheery. This movie could not be more fun.

7. The Retreat

The Retreat shows how satisfying it can be when cabin-in-the-woods horror is done well.

Director Pat Mills builds an air of dread and tension minus the usual gimmickry. Writer Alyson Richards pens a lean, mean, bloody survival thriller that boasts some welcome surprises and a smart social conscience. Realized via strong performances from Tommie-Amber Pirie and Sarah Allen, heroes Renee and Val’s relationship feels perfectly authentic, with a sexuality that’s never exploited by a leering camera. And while you may be reminded of 2018’s What Keeps You Alive, there is a critical difference.

The couple in that film could have been heterosexual, and it still would have worked. But here, the fact that it is a same sex couple being hunted matters very much to the story at work. It enables Richards and Mills to anchor a revenge horror show with a satisfying metaphor for the violent threats LGBTQ folks continue to face every day.

6. A Quiet Place Part II

For a few well-placed and important seconds, there it is: the much-discussed nail from A Quiet Place. And like most everything else in writer/director John Krasinki’s thrilling sequel, the nail’s return carries weight, speaking visually and deepening our investment in these characters’ terrifying journey.

There is no shortage of exhilarating, squirm-inducing and downright scary moments, but Krasinski instills it all with an impressive level of humanity. He gives the enterprise a welcome retro feel and his flair for visual storytelling has only strengthened since the last film.Paragraph

AQPII is lean, moves at a quick clip, thrills with impressive outdoor carnage sequences and yet commands that same level of tension in its nerve- janglingly quiet moments. Krasinski had a tough task trying to follow his 2018 blockbuster, one made even tougher now having to prove the sequel was worth saving for a theaters-only release. On both counts, we’d say he nailed it.

5. Censor

It’s 1985, Thatcher’s England: an era when controversial films hoping to make their way to screens big and small found themselves more butchered than their characters. Writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond and co-writer Anthony Fletcher evoke such a timestamp with this film, not just in the look and style, but with the social preoccupation.

Censor is a descent into madness film, but its deep love and understanding of the genre play a central role in this madness. Niamh Algar’s performance as the video nasty censor in question is prim and sympathetic, deliberate and brittle. It’s clear from the opening frame that Enid will break. But between Algar’s skill and Bailey-Bond’s cinematic vision, the journey toward that break is a wild ride.

4. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

Making an unnervingly assured feature film debut, writer/director Jonathan Cuartas commingles The Transfiguration’s image of lonely, awkward adolescence with Relic’s horror of familial obligation to create a heartbreaking new vampire tale.

Many things are left unsaid (including the word “vampire’), and My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To confines itself to the daily drudgery of three siblings. Dwight (Patrick Fugit) longs to break these family chains, but sister Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) holds him tight with shame, love, and obligation to little brother, the afflicted Thomas (Owen Campbell).

What could easily have become its own figurative image of the masculine longing for freedom mines far deeper concerns. Cuartas weaves loneliness into that freedom, tainting the concept of independence with a terrifying, even dangerous isolation that leaves you with no one to talk to and no way to get away from yourself.

3. Lamb

Among the many remarkable elements buoying the horror fable Lamb is filmmaker Valdimar Jóhannsson’s ability to tell a complete and riveting tale without a single word of exposition. Rather than devoting dialog to explaining to us what it is we are seeing, Jóhannsson relies on impressive visual storytelling instincts.

His cast of three – well, four, I guess — sells the fairy tale. A childless couple working a sheep farm in Iceland find an unusual newborn lamb and take her in as their own child. As is always the way in old school fables, though, there is much magical happiness but a dire recompense soon to come. It is an absolutely gorgeous, entirely unusual and expertly crafted gem of a film. You should see it.

2. Candyman

This new Candyman is the most delicious brand of horror sequel. Thanks to the startling vision of director/co-writer Nia DaCosta and producer/co-writer Jordan Peele, it is a film that honors its roots but lives so vibrantly in the now that it makes you view the 1992 original from an urgent new angle.

DaCosta’s savvy storytelling is angry without being self-righteous. Great horror often holds a mirror to society, and DaCosta works mirrors into nearly every single scene in the film. Her grasp of the visual here is stunning—macabre, horrifying, and elegant. She takes cues from the art world her tale populates, unveiling truly artful bloodletting and framing sequences with grotesque but undeniable beauty. It’s hard to believe this is only her second feature.

By the time a brilliant coda of sadly familiar shadow puppet stories runs alongside the closing credits, there’s more than enough reason for horror fans to rejoice and…#telleveryone.

1. Saint Maud

Maud (an astonishing Morfydd Clark) has some undefined blood and shame in her recent past. But she survived it, and she knows God saved her for a reason. She’s still working out what that reason is when she meets Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former choreographer now crumbling beneath lymphoma.

Ehle’s performance strikes a perfect image of casual cruelty, her scenes with the clearly delicate Maud a dance of curiosity and unkindness. Clark’s searching, desperate performance is chilling. Writer/director Rose Glass routinely frames her in ways to evoke the images of saints and martyrs, giving the film an eerie beauty, one that haunts rather than comforts.

Glass’s film treads the earth between mental illness and religious fervor, but its sights are on the horror of the broken-hearted and lonesome.

Found In Translation

Achoura

by Hope Madden

Children in peril, cool creature design and a monster that still feels new, even though it’s centuries old. Franco-Moroccan filmmaker Talal Selhami delivers all this and more in his latest effort, Achoura.

The tale bounces around three different time periods. Many years ago, a young girl and boy run away from her arranged marriage, taking shelter in an abandoned house. They are found, and not just by the husband.

Years later, four young friends playing in a cornfield wander into the same house and meet with tragedy. In modern-day Morocco, three of those four come to terms with just what it is they experienced.

Achoura is the third film I’ve seen in recent years focused on a djinn— a spirit of Middle Eastern folklore. Earlier this year, David Charbonnier and Justin Powell released their chamber piece, The Djinn, and back in 2016 came Babak Anvari’s terrifying sociopolitical treasure, Under the Shadow.

Selhami’s film lacks the power of the latter and the focus of the former, but it still brings the goods. The filmmaker is at his best working with children, establishing an unsettling vulnerability that gives his horror real punch.

The adult storyline works less well — certain head-scratching behavior begging too much suspension of disbelief — but Omar Lofti’s tender performance almost makes up for that. A bridge of sorts between the children and adults in the tale, he enlists your investment in solving the riddle and saving the day.  

Romain Paillot’s score conjures Ghostbusters as well as E.T., disconcerting choices given what’s in store for youngsters in Selhami’s film. Things don’t go well for them, and their suffering gets a tad lost in the narrative. It’s as though the film began as a metaphor about molestation but changed course somewhere and never properly righted itself. It gives the film a sense of thematic meandering.

Selhami scores points with the creature, though. The image, echoed throughout the film in drawings and artwork, is eerie and the monster itself looks great when handled practically. The VFX leaves something to be desired, unfortunately, marring a few scenes that would otherwise have been seriously unnerving.

Achoura also marks the second film this year to take inspiration from Moroccan folklore, after Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Kandisha. And though Selhami’s cinematic storytelling shows some weak spots, he and his creepy film are part of a movement expanding the look and language of horror, and that’s worthy of applause.

Nun But the Faithful

Agnes

by George Wolf

After Agnes, some disgruntled horror fans may end up checking the credits for the stamp of A24. Don’t get me wrong, I consistently love A24’s brand of spooky, but I can’t deny that some of their trailers write a visceral check that the films themselves don’t always cash.

So don’t come to Agnes for some standard demonic possession fare, cause it ain’t here. But what director/co-writer Mickey Reece has in store ends up being bold and weird, funny and captivating, and in the end, even sweetly hopeful.

Opening with a convent birthday gathering that gets out of hand fast, Reece then introduces us to Father Frank Donaghue (Ben Hall), whose knowledge of the rite of exorcism earns him a meeting with the Bishop. Back at Santa Teresa, young sister Agnes (Hayley McFarland) seems to have the Devil in her. Church elders want Father Frank and his neophyte Benjamin (Jake Horowitz) to cast it out.

Things don’t go well, leading Father Frank to call in reinforcement from the renegade Father Black (Chris Browning), a cocky, chain-smoking padre who puts Agnes through a hilarious bit of exorcising straight out of Airplane!

If you saw Reece’s Climate of the Hunter, you won’t be surprised by the layer of dark humor running through his latest. But what might surprise you is realizing that what happens to Agnes isn’t really the point here. The point is what happens to Mary (Molly C. Quinn).

Sister Mary committed to the convent after a tragic loss in her life but abandons the order following those clumsy attempts at driving the Devil from her friend. From there, Reece also leaves the convent behind to focus on Mary’s attempts at re-adjusting to “normal” life.

The film’s tone takes a major shift, establishing a clear contrast between nunnery silliness and real-world struggles that reinforces an early observation made by Father Frank.

Belief in evil is on the rise, so where is the increased belief in Godly things?

Quinn (Mrs. Grady in Doctor Sleep) invites both curiosity and sympathy as Mary wanders wide-eyed and often expressionless, looking for a reason to believe. She proves a wonderful vessel for both Mary’s crisis of faith and Reece’s unconventional methods for raising worthwhile questions.

Follow its admittedly jarring path and Agnes just might make you find comfort in your next ham sandwich.

Tick, Tick, Boo!

Autumn Road

by Cat McAlpine

Riley Cusick does it all. He is the writer, director, and plays two leads in Halloween-themed horror Autumn Road. The film focuses on twin brothers Charlie and Vincent (Cusick), running a haunted house in their small hometown, and struggling actress Laura (Lorelei Linklater, Boyhood), who returns home for the anniversary of her sister’s disappearance.

Cusick establishes a wonderfully quiet but chaotic tone for his film. As a director, he has a great eye for establishing his shots, wonderfully capturing a small town filled with lonely people. A long shot of a spinning cup of cocoa. A lingering look at a dark parking lot. A masked man sprinting down a sunny highway. Cusick leaves a strong visual mark painted in warm tones.

It’s a good feature film debut done on the indie scale. But there’s room for growth. The script is weak, resulting in unrealistic dialogue that performs poorly paired with a handful of mostly wooden performances. Meanwhile, Cusick’s owl theme is haunting but heavy-handed.

Autumn Road still shines though, mostly when Cusick allows himself to become a little unhinged or when his monologues have time to ramp up into the insane. One such moment is when Vincent holds auditions for the haunted house. The scene is just the right mix of silly, campy, and genuinely disturbing.

Linklater does best with the more realistic dialogue, which allows her to be vulnerable and broken. She glows in a flashback scene with her sister. But she’s often saddled with difficult moments like suddenly mentioning her roommate’s recent death while making it about herself. “I’ve got bad luck in my bones. It follows me around like a dark cloud.” She says, conflating the disappearance of her sister with her roommate’s violent end.

Despite the genre, the violence of Cusick’s film is always shocking. Much of that violence never meets a resolution. In fact, most of the tension in the film remains unresolved, both painting a bleak picture and leaving the watcher unsatisfied. There seem to be no real-world consequences for the actions in Autumn Road.

Ultimately, Cusick’s feature-length debut is a fine effort. But his future endeavors may be best served if he dedicates his focus to a single role.

Scary Christmas

Double Walker

by Hope Madden

You know that lyric from It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year — “there’ll be scary ghost stories”? I was an adult before I realized Andy Williams was talking about Scrooge.

Filmmaker Colin West reminds us that that story, and Christmas ghosts in general, can be pretty scary and awfully damaging in his latest, Double Walker.

We open on a blood stain, then a funeral, then a despondent mother (Maika Carter), but her grief is more complicated than it looks.

From there, West’s film follows one young woman (co-writer Sylvie Mix, Poser) who looks very cold and vulnerable on the wintery streets of Columbus, Ohio. As one nice guy after another offers aid, West toys with your preconceived notions. Is she a dangerous psychopath? A victim in the making? Is Double Walker possibly a riff on Emerald Fennell’s glorious Promising Young Woman?

Not exactly. And maybe. But not really.

What the filmmakers have done is to fracture a storyline in favor of a mood, one that takes on the surreal qualities of a haunting.

A meditation on trauma, Double Walker sidesteps easy summarization but never feels unmoored. Like the old Dickens story, this tale wonders at the ripple effects of behaviors, how a change here or there might yet alter the course of events.

Mix is hollow, chilly melancholy as the central figure, wandering into and out of an interconnected group of lives. The almost expressionless performance through the bulk of her screentime allows the mystery to unravel around her without giveaways. It also adds weight to the rare smile and horror to her sudden movements.

Not every performance is as strong, but West evokes such a poignant and dreamlike atmosphere that minor acting hiccups can be overlooked. He casts a spell with his feature debut and it’s hard not to wonder what both he and Mix might do next.

Into the Woods

Antlers

by Hope Madden

Hey, do you remember what a non-stop laugh riot Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace was? No? Well, compared to his latest — the long, long-awaited horror Antlers — it is.

The film takes us to depressed, smalltown Oregon at the height of the opioid crisis. Julia (Keri Russell) has returned after decades away. She lives with her brother, the town sheriff (Jesse Plemons), teaches middle school and deals with her demons.

Someone else’s demons are less metaphorical.

Cooper co-wrote the screenplay with Henry Chaisson and Nick Antosca, who adapts his own short The Quiet Boy. The short uses fairy tale language to cast an image of abuse and horror — an idea Antlers plays with but eventually abandons for more heavy-handed parallels between child abuse, addiction and economic blight.

At the center of the action is 12-year-old Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas) in a remarkable turn. Hollow-eyed and tragic, he conveys secrecy and desperation in equal measure. And as soon as your heart breaks for Lucas, you see his little brother Aidan (a crushingly adorable Sawyer Jones).

The boys have a problem that seems unsolvable, but it might have played better if Cooper could have kept the focus a little more on the monster movie and a little less on the metaphor.

There is a monster —literal and figurative—in this film. The creature effects for the literal monster amaze and unnerve, thanks to an impressive design and to emotional seeds planted early in the film by actor Scott Haze.

Antlers looks great, whether cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister’s camera lingers in the woods, tiptoes down hallways, or witnesses red-flare lit doom in a mine. But Cooper is an odd choice for a supernatural film, and perhaps an entirely wrong-headed filmmaker to take on the perspective of a child to tell a horrific fairy tale.

Whimsical he ain’t.

In the end, the film suffers from a lack of imagination. Cooper and team lead us through a dour metaphor full of familiar genre tropes and leave us with a brutal, great-looking, well-acted lecture.