From the director of Hostiles comes a supernatural thriller inspired by Native American legend.
The wait is over: After repeated delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Antlers — a supernatural thriller inspired by Native American legend — has finally been scheduled for an Oct. 29 theatrical release by Searchlight Pictures.
Directed by Scott Cooper (Hostiles, Crazy Heart) from a screenplay he adapted with co-writers Nick Antosca (Brand New Cherry Flavor) and C. Henry Chaisson from Antosca’s short story “The Quiet Boy,” and produced by Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water), the film stars Keri Russell (TV’s The Americans, Felicity), Jesse Plemons (Jungle Cruise, The Power of the Dog), Scott Haze (Old Henry) C&I reader favorite Graham Greene (Wind River, Dance With Wolves) and newcomer Jeremy T. Thomas (pictured above with Russell).
The official Searchlight synopsis: “In an isolated Oregon town, a middle-school teacher (Keri Russell) and her sheriff brother (Jesse Plemons) become embroiled with her enigmatic student (Jeremy T. Thomas) whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with a legendary ancestral creature who came before them.”
Cooper and Del Toro insist that the only thing more important to them than creating a unique and convincing onscreen “monster” was making sure the creature at the heart of Antlers drew accurately and respectfully from the Native lore from which it came. Much like the legendary Sasquatch — a.k.a Bigfoot — of the Pacific Northwest, the Wendigo has its roots in both regional storytelling and the imaginations of folklorists. So the filmmakers worked with Indigenous Nations consultant Grace L. Dillon and other experts while researching and filming aspects of Native American folklore and culture in Antlers.
“In the 1990s, there was a sense that the Wendigo might have been inspired by Native contact with European nations,” says Dillon, who serves as a professor in the Indigenous Nations Studies Program at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. “Within my community — I have family both at Garden River Nation in Ontario, Canada and Bay Mills Nation in the Upper Peninsula 6 of Michigan—we’ve spoken about many aspects of the Wendigo. It can manifest in many ways, but it is first and foremost always a spirit.”
According to Dillon, an older term used by the Anishinaabe people (the group of culturally related indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States) for Wendigo literally means “greed.”
“We live together as villages and are constantly sharing, so any form of excessiveness is seen as a heinous thing,” says Dillon. “But there are variations on this, too. Wendigo can also be the fierce winds that come off of Lake Superior and damage ‘the common pot’ of our community, as we call it. The Wendigo can enter into any kind of consciousness, manifesting as animals or humans.
The Wendigo (also spelled “Windigo” and “Wetiko”) is generally known as a mythological deer-like creature and/or evil spirit in the mythology of the Native American Algonquian tribes, based in the northern forests of Nova Scotia, the East Coast of Canada, and Great Lakes Region of Canada. Widely accepted as a destructive, cannibalistic creature associated with winter, coldness and starvation, the Wendigo also looms large in the traditional belief system of many Algonquin-speaking peoples, including the Ojibwe, the Saulteaux, the Cree, the Naspapi and the Innu.
“The Wendigo legend felt like a natural fit for this place,” says screenwriter Chaisson, “because it’s a monster that reflects our own demons and feeds off of our worst potential. It’s the spirit of lonely places. In a town like Cispus Falls the Wendigo comes to be a stand-in for the issues people would rather not confront. “It’s also just a terrifying concept because a Wendigo, by definition, is a person who has become corrupted. It literally comes out of us.”
Filmmaker Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals, Skinwalkers) also served as Anishinaabe and Native American advisor on Antlers, and says the Wendigo is an especially apt metaphor for the fractious relationship humans now have with the land.
“The Wendigo brings a message that you’ve encroached upon territory you’re not allowed to encroach upon, and the Wendigo will set it right,” says Eyre. “The larger message is that the earth has been here for millions of years. But we can never destroy the earth; she will destroy us. She doesn’t need us to go on.”
Graham Greene puts an even finer point on the monstrous entity at the heart of this story: “The Wendigo is the pain and misery that lives in all of us, and it comes out eventually. It lives everywhere, and you can’t get away from it.”
Here's the trailer, but be forewarned: There’s some scary stuff here, folks.