Film Review: Antebellum

STUDIO: Lionsgate | DIRECTOR: Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz | CAST: Janelle Monáe, Gabourey Sidibey, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Tongayi Chirisa
RELEASE DATE: Sept. 18, 2020
SPECS: R | 105 min. | Horror mystery

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie 3Dishes.jpg (40×13) 1/2

is a nasty and often disturbing horror outing that tackles some seriously heady issues and makes a bold connection between the past and the present.

Told in three distinctive parts, the film stars Janelle Monáe (Harriet), first as a slave in a Southern plantation, circa 1863. Possessing an independent spirit, she is horrifically abused during the film’s unsettling opening sequence.

Then Monáe appears again in contemporary times, as a successful TV pundit, author, mother and wife, a Washington D.C. resident getting together with friends (Gabourey Sidibe, Tower Heist) and Lily Cowles (Jones vs. the World) for dinner during a conference in Louisiana. Finally, the film shifts back to the hellish setting of the film’s opening part, where Monáe struggles for her life against a group of Confederate assailants. To reveal how these three segments are connected would be to give away Antebellum’s secret.

Antebellum is successful in eliciting shocks for its ultra-realistic depiction of life on a plantation, as debuting feature directors (and screenwriters) Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz hold little back. They begin the film with an impressive, long tracking shot that takes in all of the estate’s daily goings-on, from the raising of the Confederate flag and the arrival of troops to the sadistic treatment of slaves by their masters. This is the film’s best scene—the rest is uneven despite the filmmakers’ obvious technical prowess. They certainly fare worse in the modern-day setting, where logic and sensible plotting is sacrificed for useless chit-chat and dramatic exclamation marks in lieu of real suspense.

This one comes from one of the production entities behind Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which should come as no surprise. Like that film, which connected race to terror, Antebellum also has a very distinctive Twilight Zone flavor added for good measure, as well as the idea that, sadly, the horrors of history are hard to shake in the present (and will likely be just as tough in the future). Thanks to parts of Antebellum, that idea will likely stay with you well after the film ends.

Antebellum is available on On-Demand and on select streaming platforms on September 18, 2020.

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.