Review: Antebellum

Antebellum (2020)

Directors: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz

Writers: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz

Starring: Janelle Monae, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, and Gabourey Sidibe

Plot: (I don’t know how to explain the plot without spoilers.)

Review: Don’t you hate when you can see how a movie could be good, maybe even great, but it just never quite lives up to that promise. It’s especially aggravating when literally everything is right there. That’s definitely the case with Antebellum. The plot is interesting. The acting is great. The set design, costumes and cinematography is all perfect. It just… falls flat in it’s execution. It’s really a bummer.

First off, I’ve got to admit something. I think a lot of the impact of Antebellum was taken from me, because I already knew the twist going in. I didn’t read it online. I didn’t have a friend accidentally let it slip. I just figured it out based on the trailers. For a movie with marketing focusing on the “what’s going on” factor, it really wasn’t that hard to put together. In fact, it’s so easy that I was surprised the ads were pushing the “twist” so adamantly. It seems dumb to show so much if you’re looking to sell it on that front. Pull a Cabin in the Woods and only show us scenes from the first act of the movie, if you want to hide stuff. Because, as it stands, the marketing definitely hurt my enjoyment of the movie.

But, even if the twist was intact, I’m still not sure I would’ve enjoyed Antebellum very much. The whole thing just felt kinda shallow. I saw one reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes say that, unfortunately, not every horror movie with a message can be Get Out. And, that just made me really sad because this definitely could’ve been that if someone super talented were behind the camera. Like, say, I don’t know… a Jordan Peele for instance. Or, heck, even a Steve McQueen. My problem is pretty much all in the way everything feels. I never bought that we were seeing an accurate depiction a plantation in the confederate South. The vibes just weren’t right. This isn’t 12 Years a Slave. It felt like a tv movie version they would show at a history museum. And, I think it kind of suffers for it. Plus, the horror and mystery elements aren’t even that good. I never once was even a little creeped out. Again, comparing it to a better movie, it’s no Get Out. And, lastly, the characters, other than Monae’s just feel flat. The villains are just evil. The other slaves are mostly background. And, well, no one really feels all that fleshed out. Now, imagine Jordan Peele’s take (or really anyone else who’s willing to put in the work) where we’ve got a super serious, Oscar worthy drama about slavery and we start to gradually learn that something is amiss here, until it eventually evolves into a full on horror flick. That’s definitely a movie I’d rather watch and kinda the movie I was expecting. Instead, we got this… which feels almost cartoony at times. I almost wonder if they rushed this to feel “relevant.” Oh well.

I’d in no way call Antebellum a complete disaster though. Like I said earlier, there are some things that work. Janelle Monae gives a pretty solid performance, as both her character on the plantation and the one in modern day. While it failed in its execution, the idea behind the movie is pretty good. And, everything really does look fantastic. The plantation looks era appropriate. The costumes are good. And, the cinematography really is impressive. There were quite a few absolutely beautiful shots. It’s a shame they were wasted on something so overall unimpressive.

Am I being too hard on Antebellum? I don’t know. Maybe. It’s just not fun to watch a middle of the road movie when you know it could’ve been something special. If given to someone who was willing to put the work in, rewrite the script once or twice more, and then taken it super seriously (and advertise it differently please), I think we could’ve gotten a great movie. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality we live in. Instead, Antebellum is just there. It’s not very good. It’s not bad. It just exists.

TL;DR: Antebellum feels like a lot of wasted potential.

Score: 6/10 (Ok)

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