Antebellum is a horror/psychological thriller movie written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz and stars Janelle Monáe, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, and Gabourey Sidibe. The music for the film is composed by Nate Wonder and Roman Gianarthur.
Horrifying without reason
Antebellum follows an African-American author Veronica Henley, as she finds herself trapped in a horrifying and brutal reality which seems to be more of a dream.
[TW: Sexual harassment, suicide, extreme violence]
The film’s premise is extremely heavy. Spinning a fictional tale on themes like racism and slavery in the 19-century can be a very arduous and difficult task, and unfortunately, Antebellum falls short in that regard. So much so, infact, that it feels more surface-level than intimate, and feels like it uses actual inhuman torture on slaves to provide shock factor.
Antebellum is shocking, there’s no doubt about that. The first 40 minutes is scene after scene of absolutely horrifying incidents without any break and it’s very difficult to watch. The film, in general, is loaded with them – there’s sexual harassment, rape, torture, murder and suicide. It is made more uncomfortable because of the haunting background score, with its slow and immediate nature, and the cinematography which is kinda cheery. While the background hints at something horrible about to happen, the visual implores the viewers to come face-to-face with the contrast between the two. However, it is made clear that in this century, we are following one particular woman – Eden.
The film, however, very swiftly then shifts to the present, where Veronica Henley is a successful author and activist. She has a wonderful family and a very active work life. However, she is kidnapped while on a work trip, and then we get to the ending. This part of the movie feels very fake and drawn-out in comparison to the first half. When you are introduced to violence of this magnitude, easing into a rich author’s life seems very awkward, to say the least.
The trouble, however, for me, was the ending. It is just so lazy. I don’t want to say that the twist wasn’t “twisty” enough, because it was. However, throughout the film you get a sense that there are two parallel stories going on, and it will merge at one place and there will be something deeper, more intense – we will get to know the Eden’s thoughts, reasons and understand her and Veronica’s characters better. However, the ending makes you realise that it’s just violence for the sake of it.
We get to know that Veronica is Eden, and after the former gets kidnapped, she is taken to a Civil War re-enactment camp called Antebellum where she is tortured. The entire middle of the story takes place before the first part. There’s no deep inner meaning or anything like that. It’s just white people who hate Black people and want to torture and murder them. Which is kind of shocking as well, since if we consider the movie taking place in 2020 (or 2019), that would mean that people are committing these crimes in a Civil War re-enactment camp and no one knows about it. I am a little confused as to how that is possible.
It’s also astonishing that a movie, which is supposed to be about slavery, does not let most of its Black characters have a voice. So, after watching the entire movie, I was baffled as to why only Veronica gets to escape. Like, the camp is filled with Black people who are tortured and brutalised every day. Why is it that Veronica is the only person who gets to run away, or even have the will to do something about it, and the others don’t? Or were the others in on it, and she was the only person tortured? The others slaves seem to have resigned their lives in that plantation, as if they are actually in the 19th century, which is kind of odd. I am a little confused, and Antebellum answers no questions for you.
Summing up: Antebellum
The movie features some fine performances, especially from Janelle Monáe. She’s great, and so are the rest of the cast. However, their talent seems wasted in a movie that does not deliver what it promises.
Antebellum works with a premise that is extremely important and necessary in such trying times. However, instead of giving a voice to the seemingly voiceless, and going deeper into the themes, it proceeds to give its viewers just a horror movie with a gratuitous amount of violence. I mean, in one scene at the end, Veronica uses her super yoga skills to run away from her harasser. It’s obscenely hilarious and that’s not the outcome we want.
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