ANTEBELLUM gets 4/10 Living in another world

Directed by Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz

Starring Janelle Monáe, Jena Malone, Eric Lange, Gabourey Sidibe


Actress Janelle Monáe said in an interview promoting Antebellum that this “is the horror movie we need right now.” This isn’t the movie for anyone to see at any time. This is a film that’s even more confounding than it is ambitious, with the decisions in plotlines and directing getting increasingly questionable as it goes on. Antebellum has the ingredients of a socially topical genre film, but it completely muddles its tone and themes (if it even has any).

It’s at least to be applauded (somewhat) for a premise that mixes the present with the past, and creating intrigue in the audience as to how these two timelines relate to each other. This trashy film clearly has nothing to say about the contrast of American race relations in these two timelines, but the film does have you fooled into thinking it might for at least more than half its run-time.

Antebellum opens, somewhat unsurprisingly, with horrendous footage of black slaves mistreated by white owners. This sequence, and plenty others, show what’s been shown a million times before in similar films: the unrelenting vileness of the owners, the brutish displays of violence, the wide open pain of the slaves. The gruesomeness and despicability of such a scene has been done better in classier films like 12 Years a Slave, The Nightingale, or even Django Unchained. But Antebellum’s over-caricatured sensibility makes it too much to take seriously, even when it’s muddling up its genre tone as well.

Antebellum has fantasy-horror aspirations similar to Get Out or any Black Mirror episode, but its translation into this film is horrendous to the point of incoherent. The film suddenly comes to a close and you’re left with the big question: why? Why to most of the significant plot points, with many logistical and legal (and even ethical) questions being brought up that clearly make no sense.

Just looking at the basic plot-line or at the marketing materials, it can be seen this film not only touches on topical issues like race relations, but also contrasts and morphs the two timelines, showing the progression of race relations over the past 150 or so years. And yet this film is too much of a mess to sort out its own story, let alone its themes. It may have topical relevance, but only at the most basic level, as it never takes the effort to intelligently connect, comment, or contrast these two eras of the USA for black and white people.


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