The movie starts with a William Faulkner quote “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” and an impressive tracking shot with a tense film score. The camera passes by soldiers marching and black slaves working. There’s a shed releasing heavy fumes of black smoke in the background as a confederate flag is raised. We are given a glimpse of our heroine slumped over a horse. The shot ends on a scene where a man wearing a slave collar with bells is held back as a woman runs away.
Antellebum begins with clear intentions. You can surmise that the setting is a southern plantation even without seeing an inch of its cotton fields. You also know the fate of the woman as soon as the Captain gave her a headstart.
Unfortunately, these potent elements and Janelle Monae’s talents are wasted. The movie doesn’t follow through on its concept. Antebellum doesn’t build any engaging mystery and satisfying narrative for its heroine.
It focuses on the events leading up to the plot twist. In Antebellum, we’re told that something is odd because of microaggressions directed toward the lead, not being a cotton picker in a southern plantation.
Veronica Henley gets bad customer service, chats with a Boss Karen, meet a creepy kid à la The Shining, and has a girl’s night out. Gabourey Sidibe is here too, but she’s a caricature.
The movie climaxes with a “that’s it?” kind of reveal in which Antebellum reveals itself to be a Get Out knockoff.
As a result, Antebellum turns into an exploitative film instead of a social commentary nestled inside a horror movie. There’s no meaning behind its images nor substantial scares out of its premise.
Antebellum is released in a time when neo-nazis proudly march with tiki torches and a cop shoots a black man on the back 7 times. The horrors of the past don’t go away, it merely appears in new forms. Unfortunately, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz got the producers of Get Out, not its creativity and wit to convey this timely message.
Antebellum is an ill-conceived horror movie and exploitative slavery film with no substantial scares.