Russell and del Toro could very well ensure that Scott Cooper’s next feature is worth remembering.
You can’t stop Keri Russell from working with visionaries. After an extended stint on the small screen in FX’s The Americans, she is ready to move on to some memorable big-screen efforts, and her career shows no signs of slowing down.
First came the news of Russell’s reunion with Felicity co-creator J.J. Abrams in a galaxy far, far away. Now, The Hollywood Reporter has revealed that she is in negotiations to star in the Guillermo del Toro-produced horror movie Antlers. The film centers on an elementary school teacher (Russell) who reaches out to an enigmatic and quiet student out of concern. However, she soon discovers that he comes from a family keeping some deadly secrets which may be crucial to their town’s survival. Earlier reports about the film have also referred to some unfathomable supernatural forces that will wreak havoc in some way.
Written by Nick Antosca (Hannibal) and Henry Chaisson (Open 24 Hours), Antlers is the first movie due out from del Toro’s first-look deal with Fox Searchlight. Scott Cooper will serve as director alongside del Toro’s producorial role, which is a fascinating combination, to say the least.
Cooper is known for making Westerns and crime dramas and doesn’t automatically seem like the ideal choice to helm a supernatural horror flick. Surprisingly, this was precisely what del Toro was looking for when pitching the film to Cooper. In theory, the Hostiles director could provide a fresh take on scary movies because of his relative inexperience. Per Collider, Cooper explained:
“[Guillermo] said ‘I’ve obviously never seen you direct a horror film, but there’s a lot of horrific moments in your movies, so I’m more interested in someone who doesn’t work in that genre to step into it.'”
Narrative-wise, Antlers seems to be heading in a nostalgic, atmospheric direction. Cooper also confirms to Collider that several horror classics have directly influenced the movie:
“I’m in the process of really developing that with Guillermo, and it’s been a lot of fun and very different for me. I was so influenced early on by the work of John Carpenter, like ‘Halloween,’ or certainly ‘The Exorcist’ which is a favorite of mine, or even Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker.’ So I’m able to bring all of that into one film which is exciting.’
Frankly, interest in Antlers has always been a fluctuating thing for me. Del Toro’s involvement generates plenty of intrigue due to his credentials as a horror aficionado. However, it’s definitely easier to be more excited about Antlers knowing that the film will be something entirely different from Cooper’s existing filmography, which hasn’t always been entirely distinctive.
Cooper’s movies are stylistically commendable, but they can feel emotionally stunted and narratively aimless. Crazy Heart and Black Mass are generic drama films. Both of them feature great leading performances, and there is some heart to be found in the former, at the very least. Unfortunately, the latter is just predictable and lackluster overall.
Annoyingly enough, the women in Cooper’s movies have been sidelined as well. For instance, Zoe Saldana was somehow wasted in Out of the Furnace, which also suffers from having a meandering, underwhelming narrative. In comparison, Hostiles is Cooper’s most proficient effort to date. The film has a definite sense of self-awareness that balances out its unrelenting brutality. Nevertheless, it still suffers from an unfocused plot that never hits any emotional highs organically, which only ends up watering down a potentially important critical depiction of the American frontier.
None of Cooper’s features have been perfect, and this is why he needs collaborators like del Toro and Russell. Del Toro is not just known for the rich visual palettes of his movies, even if he tends to veer towards luscious creatures, costumes, and sets. His movies are technical feats, and also manage to be narratively and emotionally fulfilling, regardless of genre. He doesn’t have to direct them for that quality to shine through either. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, The Book of Life, and Rudo y Cursi are all very different films, but they all happen to cohesively tell stories that are honest and earnest.
And although “subtlety” in Cooper’s films can sometimes refer to nonexistent emotion, we are well-aware of that Russell can be delicate and nuanced in her performances without being boring. Her early days playing Felicity Porter on Felicity showcases just how reserved she can be while holding her own as a series lead. Russell is positively delightful in both Waitress and August Rush, too, which rely on the calming, likable impression that she leaves on viewers.
That trait of sweetness is sharpened and hardened by the time Russell appears in The Americans as Elizabeth Jennings. She plays a woman juggling multiple identities as a spy, mother, wife, and friend – and does so to icy precision. Yet, Russell has also shown a penchant for roles that are not serious in the slightest. Let it be known that Austenland is an impeccable feel-good rom-com; a real chance for Russell to let her hair down and be a little silly.
Antlers wouldn’t be Russell’s first foray into the realm of horror. In fact, she just about carries the entirety of the Jason Blum-produced Dark Skies on her very capable shoulders. The film unfortunately features passable scares and a flop ending, and it does beg the question of whether Antlers will be the horror do-over that she deserves.
That obviously depends on whether del Toro manages to elevate Cooper’s less interesting oeuvre into something more gripping and holistically sound. That said, Russell is pulling no punches in looking for iconic filmmakers to collaborate with, which inspires optimism more than anything else.