Folklore As An Afterthought
Please note, this will not only contain spoilers about the movie, but also Nick Antosca’s short story, “The Quiet Boy.”
The Wendigo legend is one that has often been appropriated as a monster story in film and literature. It’s so much more than that and is a cautionary tale about greed and selfishness. While the stories can very depending on the tribe, at the core it is a reminder to live peacefully with others. In modern times Native Americans and First Nations People have pointed out that imperialism and the destruction of our planet can be considered cannibalism and Wendigo psychosis. You don’t have to physically eat flesh to consume others.
In regards to Antlers, it feels as though the Wendigo legend is an afterthought. It is very briefly touched on and the focus seems to be mostly on past trauma of Keri Russell’s character, Julia Meadows. She is the teacher of Lucas Weaver, played by Jeremy T. Thomas. She thinks he is being abused, but in reality the film opens showing his father, Frank Weaver (Scott Haze) in a meth lab and his younger brother Aiden (Sawyer Jones) waiting in the car. Frank does seem to love and care about his sons, even once the evil takes over he seems to still be trying to protect Lucas, telling him to stay away when the hunger seems to become too much. Julia wants to protect Lucas as no one ever protected her from her father and this is a point of contention with her and her bother Paul (Jesse Plemons).
One of the biggest faults with this story is it felt like they wanted to do so much in so little time and this might have been better as a mini series. It feels as though the Wendigo is supposed to be a metaphor for so many things at the same time. This movie didn't really know what it wanted to be, was is trying to talk about the folklore, use the legend as a metaphor, focus on family issues, a monster story, a possession story or something else?
I wish they could have gone into a deeper explanation of the Wendigo and discussed the real legend and maybe even have an explanation for why these ones seem to have antlers. Talk about the greed and selfishness of white people. Consult with Native Americans regarding ideas for how this could be done in a respectful way and especially with trying to set the record straight. Heck, I’d have loved it if they would have said that what Frank became was not a Wendigo. Maybe I just need to write my own story.
That’s something that makes “The Quiet Boy” far superior in my opinion. While the father and son are described as having antlers, they are never said to be Wendigo and while one could interpret them that way, I got the impression that they were twisted into this form as more of an occult practice. They were trapped in the house and the symbol seen on the table made me think of something that would make Tipper Gore squirm, rather than Native American folklore.
While both stories seem to end with some level of ambiguity, Antlers seems to wrap up with the Wendigo being more like a possession or a virus infecting people. “The Quiet Boy” ends with Lucas being taken away by his father and brother (both of which seem to be transformed) and Julia has been killed. In many ways I feel that is much scarier because we don’t know where they are. Especially for me since the town is described much like Brunswick, MD where I went to high school, which is also where Nick Antosca went to high school.
Where this film shines is in the acting and the creature design. If you disregard the creature being the westernized Wendigo, then the design of the creature is wonderful, but this isn’t surprising with Guillermo Del Toro’s involvement. I especially liked that it seems to have an almost human face on the front, but then a much larger mouth opening below that. The drawings that Lucas is seen doing as well are exceptional and very creepy. It’s a combination of practical and CGI and while I can appreciate the amount of practical, some of the CGI shots took me out of it a bit. Going back to the design though, I understand their reasons for making the chest appear red, like a flame trapped inside, but the original wendigo legends described them as having a heart of ice. If there had been more explanations for the differences then I could have accepted this more, but since it does not, I see this as a further fault.
Going back to the acting though, it really is a top notch cast. Jeremy T. Thomas is absolutely the highlight and I hope to see more from this kid in the future. Scott Haze also did a wonderful job and showing someone who went from a kind and loving father to a true monster. I assume this was supposed to represent drug abuse or alcoholism, but as I said before, many of the metaphors within this are rather mixed up with trying to do too many things at once.
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