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Keri Russell, by her own admission, isn’t a big fan of horror movies.

“I grew up with a mum who loves Halloween more than Christmas,” the Felicity star, 45, shares with 8days.sg over Zoom from the US recently.

So why is she doing in Antlers, a horror movie about a Wendigo, the mythological Native American monster, menacing a remote town, pray tell?

The answer is easy: Antlers isn’t just a horror a movie, it’s a Scott Cooper horror movie.

For Cooper — who’s better known for brooding existential dramas such as Hostiles, Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart (which won Jeff Bridges a long-overdue Best Actor Oscar) and the Johnny Depp-fronted Black Mass Antlers represents a detour to supernatural terrain.

“I am a big fan of his films — I love Crazy Heart — so I thought it was interesting to see his take on a horror movie,” says Russell.

Plus, with Shape of Water’s Oscar-feted auteur Guillermo del Toro on board as producer, it was too good an offer to pass.  

Antlers, which opened in cinemas here last Thursday, follows Russell’s small-town teacher who becomes embroiled with a young student (terrific newcomer Jeremy T Thomas) hiding a dangerous secret connected to the aforementioned horned beasts. In the process, she’s forced to confront her own demons.

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Young man, old soul: Director Cooper considers newcomer Jeremy T Thomas (seen here with Jesse Plemons and Keri Russell) the movie's MVP. Cooper found Thomas after auditioning 900 candidates from around the world. "I didn't want a child professional actor," he says. "I wanted an actor who could exude the kind of pain he’s enduring and the trauma...[and he gave] the kind of performances that get under your skin and stay there for the rest of your life."

The monsters in Antlers — adapted from the short story The Quiet Boy by Nick Antosca — are both literal and metaphorical.

Russell didn’t approach Antlers as a straightforward creature feature. There’s more to it than meets the eye; at its heart, it’s a family drama not unlike 1982’s Poltergeist.

Says the mother of three: “[All good horror movies have to have some sort of heart and I think that's what Scott created.

“My character is someone who is already fragile but she [decided to return to her hometown] to right some wrongs [by] trying to save this young student of hers in a way that she couldn’t save herself or her brother [played by Jungle Cruise’s Jesse Plemons] when she was younger.”

“To me, the giant monster was this generational trauma and that was the scary thing to me, that was the math I was doing in my head to make it real for me,” Russell adds.  

The forsaken Oregon town (actual location: somewhere in the Northwestern region of Canada) where the macabre events in Antlers unfold is a key character as well.

Says Russell: “The story we are speaking to is more about the depilated towns which had been ravaged by joblessness and opioid epidemic — all of those things are a recipe for a lot of bad things to happen. And I think that is what Scott is trying to say. That’s his scary monster in the film.”

Elsewhere, in a separate Zoom interview, Cooper says while Antlers is a horror movie, coming up with the gore and jump scares interest him the least. Instead, he’s more fascinated with exploring “the deep fears and anxieties that we all live with.”

What are those fears and anxieties?

“The Wendigo is first and foremost a spirit and in this film, it’s the spirit of lonely places, it’s a monster that reflects our own demons, our own worst potential,” Cooper says. “It represents the destruction of our natural resources. It represents the destruction of our bodies. It’s the pain and misery that live in all of us.

“Horror fans expect to be terrified and scared and moved, but I wanted to terrify and scare and move them and also want them to feel the challenges these characters are facing.”

That said, finding the right balance of pants-wetting scares and social commentary was a challenge, Cooper quips. He explains: “Let’s be honest, Guillermo and I are incredibly different filmmakers with different sensibilities, so the fact that any of this film works is a miracle!”

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Dynamic duo: Director Scott Cooper (left) with producer Guillermo del Toro. “I would not have made Antlers if not for Guillermo,” says Cooper. “When he approached me, he said, ‘Scott, your last three films have been horror films and nobody knows it. Would you consider [making] a horror film?’”  

Antlers (NC16) is now in cinemas.

Photos: TPG News/Click Photos

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