Antebellum is a 2020 American horror film. Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz are making their debuts as directors. The film stars Janelle Monáe, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, and Gabourey Sidibe.
The premise of Antebellum is unusually clever but never pans out satisfactorily. When the film opens, the story appears to be set on a Southern slave plantation during the Civil War. But of course, things are not quite as they seem.
Monáe plays Eden, a slave woman, who the unwilling captive and rape victim of a Confederate general referred to only as “Him”. The story plays out for the most part as most slavery narratives do. Nothing too surprising happens until the story seemingly time shifts to the present, where Eden is actually Veronica Henley, a renowned sociologist.
However, what we are witnessing is a flashback. Henley has been kidnapped – along with many other African-Americans – by white supremacists. They are forced to participate in the sick role-playing game of a slave plantation viz. Antebellum. But for real.
There is a strong contrast between what we have seen in Henley’s life on the plantation and her ‘real’ life as an independent and powerful woman. In the latter case, Henley has a loving husband and daughter and the respect of her peers.
While this premise starts out as a clever twist, upon closer scrutiny, is plainly illogical. How are these perpetrators able to kidnap such a large group of African-Americans and live out their sick fantasies unnoticed?
In addition, all the characters are cyphers – from the downtrodden slaves to the vicious Confederates – there is no depth whatsoever. Thus, we are not able to engage – not even with Henley – as we were never shown how the transition from free person to slave took place.
Moreover, a supernatural element is suggested with regards to the time shift. This is evident in the depiction of the little girl as a ghostly figure. But that was a silly red herring and never explained. Furthermore, in the context of how the story panned out, highly illogical as well.
Thematically, Antebellum tries so hard to mirror the likes of Get Out and Us, with its racial tropes but fails miserably. It reminded me of The Hunt, another well-intentioned horror-ish movie where execution let down the high concept.
In the final analysis, Antebellum is not effective as a horror film – there are hardly any scares. Worse still, the movie devolves into revenge porn when the twist is revealed. Henley exacts her vengeance on the bad guys in ludicrous fashion. Avoid.
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