Antebellum is another social commentary based horror film, but it’s no Get Out. American racism being addressed in horror films has been a trend lately, and while Antebellum is a solid feature overall. The message felt watered down due to script issues lead by an M. Night Shyamalan twist.
The structure of Antebellum is what keeps you on the edge of your seat, and it’s the same structure that undoes a lot of the thrills throughout. The film flashes between different time periods, and it’s a strong element until isn’t. Directed and written by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, the film stars Janelle Monae, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, Gabourey Sidibe, and Marque Richardson. Antebellum follows Veronica Henley, a successful author who finds herself forced into slavery. It’s very difficult to talk about this film without spoiling the surprises. However, it doesn’t do a great job hiding them at all and that’s one of the weaker aspects.
As mentioned, it’s divided into a few different periods, but all of them will connect once the credits near. Janelle’s character names are Eden and Veronica. Veronica is the central focus of the story, but discussing the two characters in too much detail would ruin everything, and Antebellum does that enough on its own. The script doesn’t really give you enough details to care what happens to Eden or Veronica. You’re expected to get behind both Eve and Veronica based on the racial issues they are both trying to battle. You spend the first half of the film with Eden on this plantation only to transition to Veronica’s life.
Their lives are very different, yet the same all at once. Once the twist comes, it’s scraps any sense of development for either character. What this script does get right is creating fear out of harsh realities. Slavery is a scary, and disgusting past for African Americans, but most of this fear comes from pages in history books. Antebellum wants to take those pages from history and bring them into the present. It’s a reminder that our past is still relevant today. Sadly, the imagery in this script may be a bit much due to the lackluster handling of its twist.
Monae is great in both roles, she captures the fear of Eden when necessary and the courage of Veronica. Her performance will make certain scenes with Eden very unsettling, but it’s a testament to her acting cops. The entire cast is a delight from start to finish and its a shame the film kind of fumbled towards the end. The scenery is beautiful, and there’s a great tracking shot at the start of the film. Antebellum has numerous components that it get’s right, but it just tries too hard to be clever about a twist it spoils with an opening quote.
Certain scenes should have been structured differently into the film because you know whats happening after Veronica gets abducted. Bush and Renz do fine as co-directors and help establish the unease you feel with Eden and with Veronica as well. The tracking shots are a nice touch, and the cinematography from Pedro Luque makes the film visually pleasing to watch.
Antebellum is going to divide audiences for sure because while it has a message that it gets across, the closer we get to the finish line, the more messy the story becomes. Flaunting your twist multiple times throughout isn’t a good look either, given that the end of the film tries to give a cathartic effect. Antebellum wants to be great, but makes too many narrative mistakes.