Film Review – Antebellum

Antebellum (MA)

Directed by: Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz

Starring: Janelle Monae, Jenna Malone, Eric Lange

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

Eden (Janelle Monae) is one of several slaves held captive and mistreated on a Louisiana plantation owned by the icy Elizabeth (Jenna Malone) and run by sadistic officers of the Confederate States Army.

Attempts to escape have been thwarted with unspeakable consequences for those who tried and failed, but with the arrival of a batch of new slaves (including a young pregnant woman), plans are underway for another attempt.

After Eden is raped yet again by a Confederate General known only as Him (Eric Lange), she falls asleep and jolts awake as Veronica, a successful sociologist, author, wife and mother, who is preparing for another business trip.

Throughout her day, Veronica experiences subtly odd moments such as encountering people who look like those on the plantation and the usual racially based microaggressions black people encounter day to day.

Co-writers/co-directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz contrast the harsh treatment of black people during slavery with the way they are treated today, asking us to ponder how far things have really come and how much attitudes have really changed.

It also looks at the constant reminders around us of the horrific acts of the past and how they permeate through time and even leans into the suggestion that trauma can still be felt through several generations.

Antebellum is visually self-assured with its framing, imagery, and the terrific (seemingly) one-take opening tracking shot through the plantation. It also, working within the thriller/horror genre expectations, playfully drops visual hints throughout.

However, ultimately it all feels heavily Get Out inspired, and leads to a big M. Night Shyamalan “Gotchya!” twist, which when encapsulated in one single shot near the end, is enough to elicit a cringe.

The film also suffers from the same technique the recent Black Christmas remake was lambasted for – its viral woke Tweets and memes inspired dialogue is overwhelmingly clunky. It is so focused on appealing to a young internet user crowd, Veronica’s husband is saved as “Bae” in her phone.

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