Ewan Gleadow

Movie Review: Antebellum

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Copyright: Lionsgate

With an influx of films this past decade looking to relay the horrors of slavery, from the drama-bound 12 Years a Slave to the swearing-fuelled action of Django Unchained, it was only a matter of time before all genres were covered. There was bound to be someone that threw this articulate, delicate topic into the world of horror. It’s obvious that the directors of Antebellum, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, were aiming for that Jordan Peele-style of storytelling and horror. If anything, we get an extremely watered-down version of his styles, narratives and twists, and it’s awful. Far worse than it has any reason to be, but this is what we should come to expect with modern horror. 

Puzzlingly, the slow-burning story choices fall apart almost instantly due to choices made by the directors. Clues as to what is happening to Veronica (Janelle Monáe) are planted throughout the first hour, but are contrived and pointless, especially considering the opening of the film explains the twists to us in a clear, unprompted manner. It’s a bit like telling someone you’re going to scare them by jumping out of a cupboard, and then being surprised when said person isn’t surprised you’ve jumped out of a cupboard. Antebellum is not a smart movie, that’s the least that can be said about this. It baffles me that this directing pair thought the pacing and script were well presented and ready for presentation, especially since this feels like a first-draft D-Grade Blumhouse piece.  

Annoying characters make up the later moments of this piece, and once the horror kicks in it’s far too bland to do anything. A forgettable villain, poorly constructed supporting characters, and a dashing, fleeting moments of bland horror. I’m quite squeamish when it comes to horror, it’s not the sort of experience I enjoy. Slight jumps are enough to have me cowering behind the cushions, but Antebellum can’t offer up that either. It depends on the frank horrors of its setting, the on-the-nose message to be found bubbling away on the surface. It’s just not interesting, and once you’ve brushed past that rather obvious, bleak notion, you’ll find a hollow and ineffective film lying underneath.  

The message is on the nose, with acting and performances that are underwhelming at best. They do nothing but propagate the weak ideas of their directors, not much of a loss since this message has been articulated far better elsewhere. But Antebellum bets it all solely on a message of equality being contrasted starkly with the horrors of the early years of American independence, the slave trade and the disgusting treatment so many suffered from. The film doesn’t have what it takes to grapple with such a huge message, nor does it articulate such thoughts in a way that could be deemed anywhere close to reasonable. An interesting premise, for sure, but one that is handled with such useless cliché. 

A film with nothing to say for itself, a weak, inarticulate message at its core that never brings about horror or commentary, Antebellum is a weak entry into the Lionsgate horror branch. Completely and unashamedly boring, it’s hard to pick apart a film that’s already coming away at the seams. Something so truly dreadful and on the nose that it removes all horror, all efforts or attempts at decent performance, they’re dropped by a directing pair who, on their debut, craft weak political commentary and wrap it in a fundamentally bad film. Fascinatingly bland, but I’m hopeful they’ll improve over time, Bush and Renz aren’t lost causes just yet.