“Antebellum” stars Janelle Monáe, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, and Gabourey Sidibe. Released on September 18, 2020, the film is about an author who is trapped in a Southern slave plantation.
The film is written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz in their feature directorial debuts. We often get scared by a lot of things such as ghosts, demons, monsters, and skydiving. However, there’s one thing that I believe puts all of those fears to shame, and that, my fellow readers, is slavery. Having to work non-stop for the people who owned you and being treated like garbage is nothing but pure torture, especially from the perspective of an African American in the 19th century. Now imagine yourself reliving this difficult time. Scary, huh? Seriously, if that ain’t a horrifying nightmare for everyone, I don’t know what is. That is the topic of this weekend’s newest release, which sees this terrifying fear come to life before our own eyes. It’s never too early to celebrate Halloween, am I right? This is another film that was originally scheduled to hit theaters before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, including cinemas. It was supposed to make its debut in April before it got delayed to August and then eventually got removed from the release schedule entirely. After a while, the film’s studio Lionsgate announced that it will be released through video on demand instead, making this the latest film to go from theatrical release to VOD release since the pandemic began. Such an interesting time to live in right now. Now that it’s finally available for our home-viewing pleasure, let's see if this latest horror film can bring in some early frights.
The story follows Veronica Henley (Monáe), a woman who’s having a successful career as an author. Her life suddenly changes when she is mysteriously abducted and is placed in the Antebellum South, where she is held as a slave at a plantation. She must use her wits to free herself and the other captives from this devastating time that they’re forced to live in. You might be thinking that this is a standard horror film that involves some type of time travel, but it’s actually more than just that. It’s also a film that represents one of the most provocative sins that are still happening today: the mistreatment of African Americans. Whether it’s during the Antebellum South or even today, people of color have been treated differently compared to the people who are white. What makes this situation even worse is that we don’t know when these heinous acts will end. These themes alone would’ve make this film another groundbreaking experience that’s in the same veins as “Da 5 Bloods” or even “Get Out”. Sadly, they’re the only things that I actually liked from the film. While it did represent this topic in a frustrating and honest matter, the representation was nearly ruined by its poor story choices and its lack of genuine frights. It’s like the writers/directors made a cake with the ingredients being two cups of the horrors of real-life problems and a few dashes of the elements of films from Jordan Peele and M. Night Shyamalan. Instead of a tasty treat that everyone will enjoy on a daily basis, it wound up being a sloppy and shameful mess that will make them question why they made it in the first place. It looked nice from a technical aspect, I can give them that, but when it comes to the storytelling, it’s a mediocre horror film that lacks any depth in its characters and the environment and has no idea what to do with it. I also want to point out that the second act of the film was not only misplaced and confusing in terms of the narrative, but also a bit slow. I think it would’ve been a bit better if it was placed after the title credits and then explore more of the situation that the characters are in. On a positive note, the cast did pretty well with their performances, with Monáe being the highlight as Veronica. While not her strongest performance in her career, Monáe did express the emotional and terrifying side of her character to a satisfying degree. Lange and Malone were also decent as Senator Denton and Elizabeth respectively, while Gabourey Sidibe did her best to keep the second act alive as Veronica’s friend Dawn.
Overall, “Antebellum” works fine as a call-to-action against the mistreatment of African Americans, but like its topic, its poor execution is simply impossible to ignore. I respect the filmmakers for sending this type of message out to the world with this film, and I hope I get to see more of that message really soon. Unfortunately, I have to say that the story they’re trying to tell to back up this message just didn’t work for me. As a regular horror film, it struggled massively to combine its themes with proper storytelling and scares in a way that Jordan Peele can with his films. I can’t say that it’s the worse thing I’ve seen, but I can say that I was pretty disappointed with this one.