I feel a little bad for ANTEBELLUM because when it comes to movies playing on the big screen, or mostly at home if the year is 2020, doesn’t really matter when, it is extremely hard for a film to keep its secrets. Especially if the marketing doesn’t do it any favors. But on the other hand, I don’t know how they could’ve marketed this film. The film literally has two faces. If they would’ve only shown footage from one side of the coin, it would been written off as a 12 Years A Slave rip off. If they would’ve only shown footage from the other side of the coin, when the movie started, audiences members would’ve been really, really confused that the theater was playing the wrong film. And because of the coin, it’s going to be really hard to review this movie without giving anything away, but I’m going to try. Let me just say this, if you’ve seen the trailer with Janelle Monae, you can probably guess from the very beginning where the film is going, because the trailer shows footage from both different aspects of the movie. You know what this would’ve been great as? A novel. Holy shit, if this would’ve been a 500-600 page novel by Stephen King, it could’ve been a fucking masterpiece piece of literature. As a movie though? Well, the more I think about the movie, the more I’m beginning to…how would I say this without recommending it? Okay, got it, the more I think about Antebellum, the more I appreciate what it was trying to do. Except the execution of the really neat idea, the hell of a great premise, is almost completely botched. When the movie hits the 40 minute mark it lags and then it seems like it just coasts through the climax, without any type of scares whatsoever. Yes, this is being marketed as a horror movie, and it really isn’t.
Well it is, in a way. It will always be horrible to see white slave owners in the civil war days brutalize, rape, and treat African Americans like absolute shit. But to call this a horror movie, is like calling 12 Years A Slave a horror movie, and THAT film definitely isn’t. There are no jump scares here, so I’m guessing the real horror aspect to put Antebellum in this film category is when the movie fully reveals its hand. Like the thought of what is really going on is the true horror. And that I can agree with, I guess. Anyway, let’s look at IMDB’s description of Antebellum…whoa…yikes…never mind it basically gives away the whole farm. Uh…let’s see, I guess I’ll do it myself! Eden, played by Janelle Monáe, is an enslaved woman on what is a southern plantation and is brought back on horseback after attempting to escape at the beginning of the film. There, that’s it, that’s all I’m going to tell you. Anymore and I’ll ruin it. If you go and search for some real critic reviews of this film, they aren’t very kind (and some are really spoiler heavy). Some critics are calling it the worst film of the year, saying that it “exploits black trauma, says nothing about the obliterating function of whiteness and anti-Black racism which makes its approach to horror and social commentary become deadened.” Yeah, I can definitely see why people would think that. But I don’t know if I necessarily agree. If this movie was made completely by a white guy, I would 100% agree. But the movie is written and directed by a white and black dude duo…so I don’t think their intentions were for people to feel that way about this movie.
The problem with this movie for me was on a film making level. There are films that have had these kind of 180 completely changing the narrative twists before, and they have been executed much better. I realize that they wanted the story to take its time, and its fine, but about 40 minutes into the movie, when we get into a different narrative for a bit, it takes its time a little too much, and then rushes the climax. The climax should’ve been more fleshed out and maybe the longest part of this concrete three act structure. The movie is and hour and 45 minutes long. The first 40 minutes is a slave plantation awful treatment of black people movie. The next 40 minutes is something else, and then the climax is only 20 minutes with 5 minutes of credits. The climax should’ve been 40 minutes as well and I think the film would’ve been tighter. The movie is filmed extremely well by both writers and directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. The cinematography in this is sometimes too gorgeous for its own good. It has some horror shots and elements in this that clash with the tone. It’s the script that needed more work, and only in bulking up the narrative, story, and climax. And possibly one or two of the characters. The villains, especially the one played by Jena Malone, normally a fantastic actress, are too cartoon-y and too over the top. Here the script did her no favors. The standouts from this film are of course Janelle Monae, followed by Gabourney Sidibe, and Kiersey Clemons. Sidibe seems like she’s having fun and chewing up the scenery in her two extended scenes, and Clemons small performance will break your heart.
Monae is the powerhouse in this movie and just proves she needs more projects to lead in hopefully better films than this and Harriet. I’ll give you one small hint about the ending. If this shit was done in real life, there would be no turning back in our country. If it was found out, there would be endless rioting in the streets, endless violence, and a ton people would be killed, and not just the guilty party. That’s all I’m going to say. So am I recommending this film? Eh, hard to say. I guess how you take it in. This is going to be a really hard watch for anyone. It’s a hard watch that makes you think long after the credits roll. But it’s so botched in how it tries to pull everything off, its like eating a cheeseburger without the meat. A dry cheese sandwich. So no, I’m not recommending it. But it certainly is not one of the worst films of the year by any means. Have these critics not seen Bella Thorne in Infamous or Ludacris in John Henry? How they even put this movie in the ranks of those I don’t think I could ever understand. And I don’t think this movie will be that divisive either. I think everybody is going to agree that they had a hard time watching it and that they can see what the filmmakers were going for but it just didn’t work for them. I think Gerard Bush said he got the idea of this movie in a whacked out dream of his. Good God that must’ve been horrifying to experience. But maybe it should’ve stayed as a dream…or had struck a deal with a novel writer like King.