By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
There is little doubt that the life experiences of Black slaves can be best described as horrific. However, as far as I know, most cinematic portrayals have never fully gone the horror route. Such is the attempt of filmmakers Gerald Bush and Christopher Renz with their psychological horror film Antebellum. Their premise takes a modern Black protagonist and places her in a world/setting, often thought to be long gone now–the Southern plantation. Though the premise is rather clever, the writer/director duo takes a somewhat confusing route to present their story. This, in addition to the fact that their movie offers few other surprises, make Antebellum a disappointing exercise in horror cinema.
Janelle Monae stars as Veronica Henley, a young, successful Black-American professor who has recently published a book about the problems Black people encounter and how they can work to fight for real liberation. While on a business trip with her dear friends, Veronica gets abducted and later finds herself trapped on an old Southern plantation. She and many other abductees are forced to work as slaves, just as their ancestors once did during the 18th century. Veronica and her new associates plot their escape and are willing to do so violently if necessary.
Written and directed by Bush and Renz, plays out like a slightly convoluted and disorienting mystery-thriller. It is this approach that comes across as a cheap parlour trick in the end and simply reveals that the filmmakers had a novel and clever idea, but didn’t know how to execute it well. The social commentary offered by the film doesn’t offer its audience anything new or exciting. The protagonist and her close associates are likable and respectable, and this helps the audience connect with them and fell empathy towards their struggles. However, the overly-complicated presentation of the story distracts from the real heart of things
The performances of the cast are solid with Janelle Monae giving a heartfelt and passionate lead performance as Veronica Henley. The villains in the story, come across as the typical, caricaturesque Southern slave drivers that usually gets portrayed in this type of film, though. The movie also features good work by Kiersey Clemmons, Gabourey Sidibe, Marque Richardson, Lily Cowles, and Tongayi Chirisa.
As far as action, violence, and thrills are concerned, Antebellum does deliver these goods, but in the end, one cannot help, but feel somewhat cheated with the finished product. Considering the headways made by Jordan Peele with his movies Get Out and Us, this latest in entry in Black-themed horror is an utter disappointment. As I write the words Black-themed horror, I feel a bit odd that this premise is becoming a subgenre, but honestly, filmmakers have been utilizing the real horrors of the past to make some bold statements and expressions of art with the horror genre. It just so happens, this latest entry is not one of the bold and inventive films we have seen so far.