Film Review: “Antebellum”

  • ANTEBELLUM
  • Starring: Janelle Monáe, Jena Malone
  • Directed by: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz
  • Rated: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins
  • Lionsgate 

Kansas City native Janelle Monáe (“Moonlight,” “Hidden Figures”) gets an overdue opportunity to be a headline star in the alleged horror flick “Antebellum.” While Monáe burns brightly on the silver screen as a successful sociologist in present day and as a slave on a cotton plantation, “Antebellum” is such a meandering, sluggish work of cinema that you want to scream out, “Get on with it!” Furthermore, placing this film in the horror genre is a fallacy because while the story itself is horrific on every level imaginable, it is not necessarily a “horror” film like recent classics as “Us” and “Get Out.” 

We first meet Eden (Monáe) after Confederate officer Captain Jasper (Jack Huston, “Fargo” the TV series) executes a female slave as she tries to escape a Louisiana plantation during the Civil War. Eden is subsequently branded with a hot iron by a disgusting Confederate general who claims her as his own personal property. Despite the failure of the escape attempt, current and newly arrived slaves look to Eden as someone who can lead them to freedom. However, Eden tells anyone who approaches her to keep their eyes down and follow the Captain’s rules about not speaking unless spoken to. 

After being raped by the General, Eden dreams of being renowned sociologist and author Veronica Henley in modern day America. A woman who has found a balance between being a wife/mother and having a successful career, Veronica is often sought after for interviews and speaking engagements. One of whom is a mysterious southern-speaking woman named Elizabeth (Jena Malone in an almost maniacal performance), who bears a striking resemblance to the plantation’s white matriarch. After celebrating with friends, Veronica takes an Uber ride to her hotel, but discovers that Elizabeth, whom she only met via an awkward online conversation, is driving and Veronica is subsequently knocked out with a blow to the head. 

“Antebellum” does have an interesting twist, but there are so many glaring breadcrumbs that it is almost expected. Additionally, just to get to the “surprise” it takes as long to get there as it does to walk across the Sahara Desert. The supposed climax is a little clumsy and not as rewarding as one might hope it to be. Monáe is a delight to watch, though, as she infuses both of her characters with grace and an inner strength that is almost tangible. With superb skill, she contrasts these elements with a sense of sheer terror and tremendous pain when called upon to do so. 

Overall, “Antebellum” does have an intriguing premise with a talented star, but it fails to deliver on almost every level, and unfortunately, Monáe is left to carry the load as her supporting cast is largely forgettable. Much like the film.

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