By Bradley Lane
Again, film lovers find ourselves in the midst of the industry adjusting to the fact that for the foreseeable future, movie theaters will not be safe enough to attract crowds large enough for any big-budget film to be profitable. In attempts to quell both financial losses and outcries from audiences disappointed by the delay of films with previously planned releases, Lionsgate films is releasing Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s socio-political horror film Antebellum on a digital release. The results of the writing and directing pair of first-time filmmakers is a disappointingly boring slog through an hour-and-a-half of watching paint dry, culminating in nothing more than a tired pastiche of modern horror’s biggest hits over the last five years.
Janelle Monáe stars as Veronica, a successful writer and advocate for black and poor people, who becomes suspicious of those around her. This story is mysteriously tied into the opening of the film set on a Confederate-controlled plantation during the Civil War where a newly purchased slave, Eden, also played by Monáe, adjusts to life on the brutally violent farm.
If that synopsis seems short or even vague, I would tend to agree with you, but that is just because nothing happens in this film. The first half is filled with brutal violence and questionably employed sexual assault against our principal character before we can even identify with them. Then, in the second act, the audience is introduced to an entirely different character who does get some characterization but besides the most rudimentary of verbal exposition, this never actually amounts to any more than communicating that she is smart, kind and doing important work.
The most infuriating thing about Antebellum is that the marketing clearly attempts to imitate and capitalize off the works of other, more thoughtful filmmakers. The poster touts the film as being from the producer of Get Out and Us, but besides Sean McKittrick serving as one of six producers, the films share no other connection. This becomes self-evident when examining the messaging and targeted critiques of each of these films.
Jordan Peele’s Get Out identifies white suburban liberals as a problem for black liberation because in order for black people to truly be free and equal with white people, it requires a change in the status quo that provides liberal America its economic security in the U.S. Similarly, Peele’s Us centers on a subjugated section of poor people rising against, and ultimately overthrowing, their unwittingly oppressive upper-class counterparts. Here the message is clear that a lack of class consciousness is an obstacle facing disenfranchised Americans. Antebellum is a film severely lacking in similar levels of adeptness in its messaging that ultimately can be boiled down to, some white people are evil racists and they are bad because racism is bad.
No person needs to be told racism is bad; adults know that racism is bad. Additionally, when the systems that suppress black and poor people are boiled down to bad people doing bad things, it causes more harm than good. When these issues are detached from the context that drives those systems of oppression, it only does more harm in bridging the gap to understanding one another. This is painfully ironic because understanding one another could be the only solution to the issues this film set out to help solve. Antebellum is available to rent from all video on demand platforms. – 1/5 stars