Myths, fears and silences: we spoke with Scott Cooper about how he interprets horror cinema and his latest film, Antlers Dark Creature

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Terror sells (It is often said), although more than that, it should be said that it is a genre of ample solvency. Their productions are not the most expensive and that of “going to see a scary one” still does not go out of style, which usually translates into greater chances of obtaining the desired return at the box office. Let them tell Air Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar), James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Warren File) or Edward Wright, who is now flirting with the dark on his impending Last Night in Soho. Although surely it is something that does not escape Scott Cooper, director of the Oscar-winning Crazy Herat and the recent Hostiles. The American just passed through the Sitges Festival with Antlers, his last job. A terror movie (which we already talked about in our special on horror movies for 2021) starring Keri Russel, Jesse Plemons and young Jeremy T. Thomas, which has been eternally delayed by the effects of the pandemic, but which finally reaches theaters to update us on what a Wendigo.

The project of Antlers starts with Nick Antosca, American novelist and screenwriter who has participated in series such as Hannibal or Channel Zero. The writer performed a story that he would later adapt as a script and that he managed to convince himself Guillermo del Toro to embark on this production. The text, titled The Quiet Boy, it was published at the beginning of 2019 in the digital magazine Gernica, and his reception was more than satisfactory. The plot, shared by the two works, places us on the trail of a teacher (Julia) who practices in a small town in Oregon. From the unusual behaviors of one of her students, the teacher begins to be interested in him and his situation, something that will lead him to the terrain of the unknown and the supernatural, and we can read this far.

The importance of silence for Scott Cooper

After viewing the film, I had the opportunity to talk for a while with Scott Cooper himself, and regardless of what I may or may not like the tape, I was delighted with that talk.

Scott exudes passion for cinema and professionalism, something that can be sensed in the intentionality of many of his creative decisions, such as the use of silences. During the first half of the film the dialogues are rather concise, leaving room for the visual narration and the introspection of some characters that inhabit the trauma. When asking the director about it, answer the following:

If I could do all my movies quietly I would. But I’m not sure the public would appreciate it. The public likes to be talked about, people like long-term television programs with lots of dialogue. But I wanted to make a movie about images and memories, and the less dialogue the better. I wanted our characters to experience things inside, deep, rich and traumatic. But to do better, he needed to do it quietly. By doing so in the opening of the film, I think we are saying to the audience: this is the language of the film, its style, its grammar. I hope we succeed, in the end it is about something mundane, about the inner drama that people live in their lives. “

Perhaps that is why, to satisfy the public, the second part of the film moves away from that personal grammar and approaches less rough terrain. There are no more valid forms than others, and we must not fall into that of complexity for the sake of complexity, but it is clear that the explicit helps the digestion of the stories. Although they do not clarify everything to us, we like to be told the reason for things.

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Scott Cooper.

A matter of tone

Even so, the tone does not change, and Antlers behaves at all times like a suspense movie that wants to play with the origin of its evil. It’s not a witch’s train, and even though it knows how to get gore when it plays, it’s not something to gloat over either. It is gloomy, dark and sad, and builds its visual beauty through those moods that seem to emerge from within its protagonists.

“Certainly having a consistent tone in any movie is important so that the production design, camera, music and performances are, so to speak, a musical whole. This movie is horror and suspense. I wanted it to be haunting, I wanted it to be edgy, and most importantly, I wanted it to be human at its core. and, to do that, he had to play within the limits of horror cinema. “(Scott Cooper)

Hitting the right tone can be tricky, and when it comes to adaptation, having a previous job can become a double-edged sword. This material is both guidance and restrictionIt is less work to build, but also less room for maneuver. Therefore, using this material to introduce topics of your own interest can be tricky. Asked about the difficulties of adapting a short story to celluloid, Cooper seems to see only facilities:

“Well, every time you work with existing material, which has a source of origin, you know that you have part of the route done. In this particular situation, with The Quiet Boy, the job has been easier, given that Antosca, who is with us, sowed the seed for terror to flourish, a genre that I have always loved. I knew it was something I wanted to explore, I wanted to make a movie that I could deal with some of the problems that Americans and people around the world are feeling today. The main difficulties of the film came from the other side. “

Keri Russel plays Julia, a teacher determined to discover the secret behind the strange behaviors of one of her students.

The work of Jeremy T. Thomas

And here we come across something that, sometimes, is not taken into account when viewing the creative process of a film of these characteristics; the age of the actors. Jeremy T. Thomas it is literally the center of the film, and as you can all imagine, he is not going to have a particularly good time during the filming of it. And yes, you have to give everything for the film, but it is not about traumatizing young talents either. Finding the right balance was one of the main challenges of this project, according to Scott:

“Working with Jeremy was a great pleasure … He is intelligent and emotionally capable, but he was a young boy, and it was difficult because he had to experience some very difficult moments in the film, and I think a more trained actor like Jesse Plemons, Keri Russell or Christian Bale, who I’ve worked with, could handle them more easily. There were some tough moments in this movie, and I didn’t want to traumatize anyone, so finding the balance wasn’t easy.. We auditioned about 900 guys from all over the world, and I’m so thankful to have Jeremy, because he is the heart and soul of the movie.

It was also my first time working with a real creature on set, and that was a challenge … (laughs). But luckily we got through it, because Guillermo del Toro is the best creator of creatures and monsters we have today. “

Jeremy T. Thomas is undoubtedly one of the great discoveries of the film.

The Wendigo as a path to terror

The creature you refer to is none other than the Wendigo, an evil spirit or mythological creature It originates from Nova Scotia and the west coast of Canada. It is a mythological creature that has served as inspiration for the story, and about which the director also spoke:

“The Wendigo means many things, and it can manifest itself in many ways, but above all, it is a spirit. I think it may be the monster that reflects our own demons, and that feeds on our worst potential. It is also the spirit of lonely places. The word Wendigo is translated in different ways, for some indigenous communities it speaks of colonialism and destruction of the environment, and it is used in psychiatry as a syndrome that speaks of the fear of becoming a cannibal. With our Wendigo we pay tribute to folklore. Our design has horns and is reminiscent of a deer, but you don’t really know what it is. I wanted it to appear to come from the earth’s crust, from its surface, as if it had been born from a coal mine. There is also another speech there, which talks about what Americans are doing around the world; raping and plundering our land for its resources. All of this has given rise to a monster that we now know as climate change. The Wendigo is in all of that, it lives in all of us, and it will eventually appear. It’s the truth, it lives everywhere, and you can’t escape it. “(Laughter)

Antlers is actually a film that deals with a deliberately emotional story.

The Wendigo, as the center of the story, acts as a link with the supernatural and serves Scott Cooper to make his approach to horror movies, a genre that he describes as one of his great passions. In this way, understand that the established tone, their management of silences, or how they have worked the mythological creature, are part of a whole. More specifically, from the idea he had in his head about what a horror film should contribute. All of it as sample of a background, and a personal history with the genre, which he did not hesitate to review before saying goodbye:

“I love horror movies, they were some of my first cinematic experiences. I had an older brother who would show me VHS and LaserDisc, and he would take me to see them at the movies. Movies like John Carpenter’s Halloween and Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, or the great Williams Friedkin with Ridley Scott’s The Exorcist and, obviously, Alien. But probably my favorite horror movie is The Exorcist. It’s a very human movie, in the end it’s about a mother watching her daughter go through a horrible trauma without being able to help her, and as a father, I think there is nothing worse than that. “

On November 19 we will have Antlers in theaters, and as the director himself comments, if the public shows an appetite for the film, we may see how this new fictional universe expands. You know what is said; terror sells.

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