Antebellum might very well be the most perplexing piece of work to come out in last few years as how a viewer would approach discussing it in any way. Janelle Monáe stars as both Eden and Veronica and; Eden is a slave at a 19th century plantation looking for a chance to escape while Veronica is an author and a speaker on black people’s issues in modern time, the movie structuring itself changing between these two timelines. We might as well just get into so let’s start by saying that this film is smart. It’s smart in that it takes risks, it is unique and there’s a really compelling story which speaks to both past and present. However it is also reprehensibly crafted, being a horror film with no sense of horror since it looks like a fantasy film that is more interested in showing more physical pain than anything emotional.
Monáe miraculously manages to keep her performance above the surface level, in a role that a less talented lead could’ve easily squandered to dispassionate movement and directionless faces. That all is a benefit for the story which, as said, is admirably ambitious in every sense. Drawing parallels through American history to where the country is now works great so I can see how others can appreciate it more overall, I rather see the film having potential for greatness and not succeeding. Trying to bring in the horror tropes later on is perhaps the biggest sign of that since the film starts by showing us plenty of horrible, inhumane actions done to slaves. We’ve already seen the atrocities and felt sick so the ”scares” later barely have any impact.
Instead of sticking to horror or even trying to analyse the trauma of violence, captivity or multiple rapes, Antebellum wholeheartedly turns into fantasy film. What’s the purpose of shooting everything during golden hour, seven thousand light flares, skyline silhouettes or unnaturally moody restaurant setting other than trying to flex? It certainly doesn’t serve the story. Directing and writing duo Gerard Bush & Christopher Renz seem to have no interest in grounding the story despite dealing with real life, no matter the time period. They direct the actors to only scream and chit-chat just so they can get to the plot twist which is the film’s whole identity. Just like the story, the twist is clever but mishandled. Every problem which includes mismanaged genre, characters, and visual style eventually comes together in one slow motion shot at the end which is laugh inducing in the worst way, it’s like the directors congratulating themselves on erasing slavery while saying how it effects people still today. It’s an oxymoron.
Frowneys: Directing, cinematography, atmosphere, characterisation
I am exhausted from this.