Antebellum Movie Review
Antebellum is so almost good it hurts. The new thriller from Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz wants desperately to be the next Get Out, but while it has plenty of style, it struggles to take full advantage of its kickass premise.
The movie presents, seemingly, the same woman in two different worlds: one, trapped as a slave on a plantation during the Civil War, the other a highly successful black author in modern times. They are linked, but how is unclear. It’s this mystery--if you can call it a mystery--that lies at Antebellum’s core.
Boasting pretty visuals, a mesmerizing if all-consuming score, and an immersive performance by Janelle Monáe, Antebellum has a lot going for it. Its first act, spent largely in Civil War-era time, draws you in as it hints at something darker and more dangerous than the typical slave drama. Its pivot to modern day is momentarily off-putting, but the chemistry between Monáe and Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe quickly makes you forget and sends the story down another path entirely.
It’s when the movie reverts back to its Civil War roots that Bush and Renz fall into trouble, despite an impressive reveal that could have easily made Antebellum an instant classic.
But the payoff isn’t there.
While the third act is not without its merits, it increasingly feels like a music video; visually striking, oddly engrossing, but largely vapid and lacking emotion. Just when the movie needed to ratchet up the intensity, to really dig in and get dirty, it instead begins to race toward the finish line, failing to properly establish the true reality of its concept, ground the characters trapped within, and equally importantly, the antagonists. The movie seems weighted toward the set up--Bush and Renz, who also co-wrote the film, patiently establish the two time periods in which Monáe’s character(s) reside, but then rush the important stuff. They needed to spend considerably more time post-reveal to suck the audience into the awful environment in which Monáe’s character resides, to develop the supporting cast and amplify the awfulness of the film’s villains.
The final scene ends in slow motion, which visually looks OK but wipes away any sense of suspense.
The movie’s underlying message doesn’t completely work, either. While it’s clearly trying to make distinct connections between Civil War-era atrocities and modern day racism, the linkages come off as heavy-handed and not particularly effective. Get Out, this is not.
Antebellum isn’t a great movie, but what’s so frustrating is just how close it is to being one. There’s a lot to like here, and the concept, if well executed, could have resulted in something amazing. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t well executed, at least not entirely. As a thriller, the movie lacks suspense and forward momentum; its structure, while clever in the moment, doesn’t entirely work; and the missed potential is evident.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.