Successful author Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality that forces her to confront the past, present and future — before it’s too late.
Right out of the gate, I just have to say it – Antebellum has one of the most misleading marketing campaigns for a film in years. Judging by the admittedly nice and creepy poster as well as the trailer, one would be lead to believe that the newest film from directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz is a horror movie, but you would be dead wrong. Instead, we get a simple period piece drama with absolutely no thrills or tension anywhere throughout. It’s one of the most soulless films I’ve seen in a long time, which is incredibly disappointing because it really could have been a unique and gripping story about confronting evil in the past and the present.
For the first twenty minutes or so of Antebellum, I was legitimately enticed. It starts off with an extremely eerie and atmospheric long-tracking shot of slaves working hard in a plantation while the slave owners are running around with guns trying to kill those that are trying to escape all while a haunting score drowns everything else out. It set the tone for a potentially heartwrenching story of slavery but instead, it eventually comes across as frustrating and empty.
After about forty-five minutes or so, I began to realize that virtually every scene I had just watched up until that point was a scene in which slave owners were abusing the slaves with almost nothing else. It actually was a little bit sickening. I was holding out hope that the film would eventually craft a story that would be riveting and empowering but it never happens. It would have been so satisfying to see a story of these slaves teaming up to flee from their captors and live life the way they want to and the way they deserve to – with freedom.
It’s not one of those movies that is hauntingly bleak with purpose – it’s just hauntingly bleak. It has absolutely nothing to say and it’s painful to have to sit through at times. The whole time travel element that they introduce later on feels so rushed and comes out of nowhere. To say that it was jarring and bizarre would be an understatement. Plus, there is little to nothing done in the scenes that take place in the present day. We just see a couple of people going out to dinner and talking with each other and that’s it. It wouldn’t be as big of a problem if this dialogue was actually strong and compelling, but it’s not.
If there is something to praise about Antebellum it would have to be the lead performance from Janelle Monáe. Watching her performance as Veronica Henley made me wish that her talents could have been put to use in a much better movie. She was truly the one bright spot in an otherwise exhausting movie. Monáe feels quiet and reserved as Veronica. She feels like she could snap at any given moment without warning and she carries a sense of urgency throughout.
But just because one actress did a stellar job in a movie doesn’t make the movie as a whole worth watching. If I’m being honest, it was a legitimate chore to have to sit through this story. It is told in a way that feels so devoid of heart and power and instead comes across as incredibly hollow and vile.
Despite a strong performance from Janelle Monáe, Antebellum is a frustratingly soulless and incredibly empty thriller that tries to say so much without actually saying anything at all.
Overall Grade: D-
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, language, and sexual references
Distributed by: Lionsgate
Release Date: September 18, 2020
Running Time: 106 minutes