Main cast: Janelle Monáe (Eden), Eric Lange (“Him”), Jena Malone (Elizabeth), Jack Huston (Captain Jasper), Kiersey Clemons (Julia), Gabourey Sidibe (Dawn), Marque Richardson (Nick DeWall), Robert Aramayo (Daniel), Lily Cowles (Sarah), and Tongayi Chirisa (Eli)
Directors: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz
Antebellum is marketed as a horror film, but I suppose that is sort of right if one considers slavery itself as an institution that demonstrates the horrific aspects of humanity. Folks looking for monsters and jump scares, though, may be disappointed by the lack of conventional, typical horror elements in this one.
Basically, we have some white supremacists led by Elizabeth and a self-styled Confederate general referred to only as “Him” setting up an elaborate present-day reenactment of those old days that takes things to the extreme: they and their buddies kidnap black people and treat them as slaves, right down to brutal rapes and killings and all. Thrust into this nightmare is the new slave called Eden. She’s played by Janelle Monáe, so the audience will know right away that she isn’t just the final girl; she’s going to make sure that these villains go down screaming straight to hell.
Really, this movie is better off marketed as thriller, if you ask me. Still, let’s look beyond the label of this movie and see how good it is, shall we?
Well, it’s an okay movie, but it’s also disappointingly one dimensional. The entire movie feels like a by-the-minutes composite of every scene and element of movies featuring slavery, only with a dramatic denouement of Eden taking down the monsters with style. Mind you, the logic behind this premise is quite suspect. I mean, how on earth can such a large enterprise go undetected for so long in the age of social media and smartphones? Perhaps the movie implies that every white person that does the whole Civil War reenactment thing is somehow complicit in enabling this hell hole to exist all this while, but seriously, not a single leak on its existence online at all? Not a single “slave” escaping to tell all? Mind you, as Eden will later demonstrate, these people aren’t really that good in preventing slaves from getting away.
Still, the movie delivers ample, if seemingly by the number, thrills and chills. Also, there are some beautifully cinematic shots here, and the production value is top notch. I just wish more care has been taken to create a more well-fleshed out story.
Even the anti-slavery message isn’t done too well. By ascribing this practice to deranged, one-dimensional monstrous people, it creates an unworthy simplification of an inhuman practice that was outlawed only fairly recently in the history of human civilization. At one time, slavery was considered “the way things should be”, and even “good” people pay little mind to the practice. If we go the Antebellum route and say slavery is only done by cackling, psychotic humans, then we are diminishing the history of slavery and encouraging people to overlook the fact that slavery still exists, albeit in more subtle forms.
Then again, maybe Antebellum just wants to be seen as a film, nothing more. Perhaps it is best treated as such—just watch it, and don’t think too much about what is happening on the screen.