(director/writer: Scott Cooper; screenwriters: C. Henry Chaisson, Nick Antosca, based on the short story “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca; cinematographer: Florian Hoffmeister; editor: Dylan Tichenor; music: Javier Navarrete; cast: Keri Russell (Julia Meadows), Jesse Plemons (Paul Meadows), Jeremy T. Thomas (Lucas Weaver), Graham Greene (Warren Stokes), Scott Haze (Frank Weaver), Sawyer Jones (Aiden Weaver), Rory Cochrane (Dan Lecroy), Amy Madigan (Principal Booth), Dorian Kingi (Antlered Man); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: R; producers; Guillermo del Toro, David S. Goyer, Miles Dale: Searchlight Pictures; 2021)

What the film does best is show how the town’s social problems become an even bigger problem than the killings of a serial-killer monster.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The bleak art-house horror pic on generational horror is set in a dead-end town on the West Coast with a depressing economy, where there have been some recent gruesome findings of dismembered bodies. Some of the locals are overcome by all the misfortunes they experience and have become mentally depressed to the point that meth has become a part of their life.

The thriller is based on Nick Antosca’s short story “The Quiet Boy,” which the author adapted to the screen with co-writer Henry Chaisson. It’s executive produced by the great Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, of film’s such as Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). His influence is all over the film.

The story is based on Native American lore, whereby a supernatural creature is viciously slaughtering anyone it meets in the town. Which keeps the clueless police chief Paul Meadows (Jessse Plemons) busy, as he’s at a loss on what to do about these bizarre crimes.

The contemporary allegorical pic is brilliantly directed by Scott Cooper (“Hostiles”/”Black Mass”). He makes hay out of what causes an unease in its two main characters (teacher & student). Their unresolved angst lingers in the viewer’s mind well-after the film’s over. This is a thinking man’s art-house film, one that delves deeply into psychological issues and is not about how many fright scenes it can fit into its story (though a few such jump scares are recorded and add value to the film).

In the small mining town of Cispus Falls, Oregon, the recovering alcoholic Julia Meadows (Keri Russell), who survived an abusive childhood, is a young woman teacher in the local middle school of her working-class town. When one of her students, the soft-spoken but troubled loner Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), shows signs in class of hiding a dangerous secret and of being a possible vic of childhood abuse, the two make a connection on that basis after the kid tells the class a chilling story that seems beyond his years. She sees in him the same childhood traumas she went through and wants to help him navigate through it by forming a closer teacher-student relationship.

The film takes off after the opening’s startling scene that
shows the attack on Lucas’ abusive dad, Frank (Scott Haze), and younger brother, Aiden (Sawyer Jones), by a monster in an abandoned mine. When Julia gets Lucas to share a story with the class and he tells this really dark one about his experience with the creature, she’s visibly upset. Later she finds his drawings in his desk of a huge frightening creature with sharp teeth, and is convinced he needs her help.

No one knows that Lucas spends his time after school trapping wild animals, cutting them up and feeding them to Frank and Aiden, who are kept growling and whimpering behind a heavily bolted door.

Upon further scrutiny
the ancient local legend of “Wendigo” is brought up as what’s going down in town. This old tale involves evil spirits and the transformation of those possessed into becoming elk-headed, human-eating creatures.

With a mix of fantasy and real everyday suffering, the story of human suffering in my eyes trumps all that Indian lore stuff. As the tension mounts, Julia confides in her older sheriff brother Paul. They try to get Lucas to open up about what he’s hiding from them.

What the film does best is show how the town’s social problems become an even bigger problem than the killings of a serial-killer monster. It seems to be saying life sucks if you have limited chances to advance yourself without an education or feel physically or mentally threatened.

REVIEWED ON 10/15/2021  GRADE: A-