Friday, 18 September 2020

Antebellum (Movie Review)

The producer behind the Jordan Peele horror films, Get Out and Us, is back with his latest effort. That film is called Antebellum, and like the name suggests, it is set during that time before the American Civil War, a time when slavery and its associated horrors were still an accepted part of daily life. But rather than thread the same lines as many of the other films with such a backdrop, the new film uses it to tell its psychological horror tale, even though it doesn't quite stick the landing.

The film opens with a sweeping shot of a Southern plantation, where confederate soldiers have taken up residence. Janelle Monae plays Eden, a slave on this plantation. It is immediately clear that she doesn't belong there, even as she struggles to come to grips with the horrors that she and the other slaves are being forced to endure.

This isn't helped by the fact that the soldier in charge of the plantation (Eric Lange) takes up a keen interest in her. But she must work up the courage to help the other slaves, who look up to her as their only chance of escape to whatever sanctuary might lay beyond the borders of the plantation.

Antebellum is a prime example of a strong opening that doesn't led anywhere worthwhile. It is also a tough film to review, simply because most of the enjoyment I gleaned out of it stemmed from how little I knew about it going in. The film employs a non-linear storytelling technique, one that only really works to heighten the sense of unease and confusion the directors were going for, if you go into the film blind. But chances are you've seen trailers for the film already, or at least read a synopsis. And in the off chance that you haven't, I've done my best to avoid spoilers of any kind.

The film is especially frustrating because it boasts some very stunning cinematography, and solid production overall. It is clear that first time directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz definitely had their sights set on something great. But the biggest offense present in their movie is the fact that it isn't all that scary to begin with. At least not in the traditional sense. The ideas on display are quite horrific, for sure, but the fact that most of it never really amounts to anything undermines their impact. Ultimately, what we get is a revenge movie that doesn't offer nearly as much satisfaction as it thinks it does.

Antebellum never manages to justify its existence outside of its strangely unique premise. All the elements for a great movie are there, but they fail to connect in any meaningful way, thereby resulting in yet another film that is neither greater than the sum of its parts, nor solid enough for me to recommend.

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