Antlers out today is a gorgeous but merciless modern fable about the burdens we bear, and those that consume us. Julia and her brother Paul find themselves in the middle of a domestic dispute with supernatural roots when they inadvertently unleash a hungry beast intent on devouring the entire town. In the end, they manage to kill the Wendigos, but it looks like it may have jumped into her brother Paul. Will he be overcame by the same lust for human flesh? Here’s everything you need to know.
Nick Antosca’s short story The Quiet Boy may have inspired Antlers, but that doesn’t mean it ends the same. In The Quiet Boy, Julia, the school teacher played by Keri Russell in the film, is eaten by the Wendigo that has replaced Lucas’ father, and he walks out the door with his wilding family. It is a bleak ending made all the more grim by the notion that Julia had severe doubts about protecting Lucas. She contemplates giving him up to save herself. In fact, we aren’t even entirely sure she did choose to save him. Lucas’ father(kind of) keeps telling Julia if she sends Lucas out, she will be spared. She considers the offer, but what if he was lying?
Lucas tells Julia the monsters that are his brother and father only want one thing. They need to feed constantly. They might decide to save Lucas because, like any good Renfield character, it is handy to have a human assistant to do all the pesky everyday things required to function in society. That doesn’t mean they would decide to spare Julia, though. We don’t know what happens as the short story ends as hauntingly as it began. We know how the film ends though, and it puts a decidedly more punctuated finish on things while still allowing for future stories. Here’s all your questions answered about Antlers, the ending, and Wendigos.
What is a Wendigo and are they real?
The central monster in Antlers is a Wendigo, although it could easily be argued abuse, addiction, and human frailty are the real baddies. Lucas tells Julia his father and brother arent his father and brother anymore having been replaced by Wendigos. His father performed a ritual and transformed into the mythical beast of hunger and want and took his younger brother right along with him. Lucas claims although the monster is ravenous, he is better than the father that he used to have. Since they were locked in the house, he has to feed them and in exchange, his father promises to care for him.
It’s a vicious little metaphor for being responsible for our families failings. In essence, a creature form of “my brother’s keeper”. The cycle of abuse and addiction, in this case violence, alcohol, and drugs, sucks everyone down with them, not just the ones who are addicted. Vulnerable family members are left with nothing but their own increasingly hungry monster for normalcy and love. It’s a nasty parable about the fallibility of humanity. Antlers is about our desire to consume, whether that be food or “things” and our responsibility to those we love.
The Wendigo is a mythical creation of the First Nations in response to western colonization. They are often depicted as severely gaunt with antlers and an overpowering odor of decay. Western colonizers had a nasty habit of leeching off the land and making it useless to the natives who had previously lived there. The concept of overconsumption and greed is the pervading theme. Wendigo roughly translates to “the evil spirit that consumes mankind”.
In a town that has nothing, hunger for food as well as the many substances abused would be substantial. This is the Wendigo’s entry point. The spirit of the Wendigo is drawn to the weak and cruel. Lucas’ father certainly appears to fill that role. We know through Lucas that even before he became a cannibalistic monster, he was abusive and violent. In fact, Lucas says what his father is now, is better. Whether that is true remains to be seen, but what is important is Lucas believes it despite being terrified of it.
Wendigos are savage beings who are formed by nature, from nature. They are creatures of vengeance. They feed on human misery, pain, greed, and unhappiness. The town Lucas lives in is as sick as his father and brother. A mining town that has been devastated by both the operation of the mine and now the closure of it seethes with anger, disillusionment, and extreme poverty. It is a fertile place for the Wendigo to hunt. Our stripping of the land has left behind a legacy of ecological and economic tragedy. The First Nations legend comes as a monsterous Lorax who is there to speak for the trees and comes with an insatiable appetite for human flesh.
According to legend, the Wendigo appeared when humans resorted to cannibalism. This was a real problem in the harsh winters after white settlers moved in. Long periods of isolation with little resources left many in unwinnable situations. The legend was born in part to warn against cannabalism. In other versions of the myth, the Wendigo is drawn to the gluttonous, selfish, and ruthless. The Wendigo in Antlers is born from the bowels of the Earth. It has an almost rock-like appearance as if it was forged in the same mine that used to employ most of the town. It burns with its need to feed and is a powerful force.
In Antlers there is no stopping the Wendigo and the spirit of the beast can be attached to anyone transforming them into starving, potent forces of devastation. Although Paul is not like Lucas’ father, he has demons like anyone else and the Wendigo doesn’t require much of a window. The ending of Antlers makes it obvious, the spirit of the Wendigo has claimed a new host and Julia must now care for him just as Lucas was responsible for his brother and father. She must now choose to kill him putting him out of his misery or care for him.
Curiously there is a hotly debated medical condition called Wendigo Psychosis, where the sufferer is simultaneously obsessed with eating human flesh and terrified of becoming a cannibal. This condition happens most to individuals who are isolated in the winter for long periods of time. Accounts of this affliction date back to 1600, and although it is unusual today, the stories still persist. The creature in Antlers is a metaphor in the flesh of that psychosis and the monster of domestic abuse.
Wendigo sightings continue even today and pop up in all kinds of folklore including the Creepypasta story I’m A Search And Rescue Officer For The US Forest Service. The combined stories that comprise the overarching narrative of this fantastic read include a first hand encounter with a Wendigo. The entire series is terrifying and well worth a spooky season read. although the story is fictional, there are those who swear Wendigos are real. Those in Northeastern America and Canada report hearing and seeing unexplainable things. Perhaps the spirit of the Earth isn’t done with us yet? Like the biological nightmare in Gaia, it will step up to reclaim the planet from those who who have tried to destroy it.
What does the devastating ending of Antlers mean?
Antlers is about violence, addiction, and the trauma that comes from both. Long after the cycle is broken, if it ever is, the scars remain. Some of them physical, but more often, they are emotional. Those scars are harder to heal and hide. Those are the ones most troubling because they are the ones responsible for returning us back into toxic and abusive relationships. Julia is a both a victim and a perpetrator herself, but she is trying to do better. Adopting Lucas gives her a second chance to make that change.
Unfortunately, the stinger makes it look like, her brother is now going to turn into a Wendigo and he will be her cross to bear. No matter how badly we might want to break free, there are some things we can never outrun. Lucas and Julia will now be in a similar situation that Lucas was in with his father and brother. The only difference now is they are armed with experience. Hopefully that will be enough to quench Paul’s inevitable thirst for blood.
Antlers is in theaters right now. Read our full review here.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.