By Christian DiMartino
Back when going to the movies was a thing (well, it still is, but not so much for me), there were a select few trailers that caught my eye. Antebellum was one of them. A horror film about slavery, which was quite the horror show in itself (and, as we’ve learned over the past few years, racism is still very much alive and unfortunately present in the United States). Antebellum looked like it could be a real winner, especially with Janelle Monae headlining and, as a few movies have done recently, involvement from Jordan Peele, whose Get Out became a much deserved and relevant instant classic.
Antebellum will not meet the same fate.
Postponed due to COVID-19 and released on-demand this past month, Antebellum is… a missed opportunity. Perhaps comparing it to Get Out is unfair, seeing as it’s very much its own thing. But Get Out appears to be the standard to top at the moment, and like Peele’s own interesting but overhyped Us, Antebellum isn’t quite up to snuff.
Man though, what if it had been? Here is a concept that is pretty interesting, and here is a film that is great looking and well acted. The trouble is, the filmmakers here made a key error. That error being that they had the concept, and they felt as if the concept alone would suffice. The trouble is, they don’t exactly do much with it, and seeing as it’s kind of easy to see what the twist is, the end result is a movie that could’ve done with a bit more in the way of plotting and intrigue.
The film opens on a slavery plantation. Imagine pretty much any plantation during the Civil War, and you’ll have the idea. Monae plays fellow slave Edna, or I guess we should just call her “Edna,” because her name may or may not be Edna. Actually, we know it isn’t, but essentially we see “Edna” as she deals with the horrors of slavery at the plantation. And it’s kind of difficult to describe what else happens here depending on what you already know about the film. Just know that Edna isn’t Edna, and that none of this is what it seems.
Antebellum might’ve worked if they had a clearer direction for where the story should’ve gone. The first 40 minutes plays like every film about slavery you’ve ever seen, that is, until the film reveals itself. Yet what’s missing here is a certain spin on the material. There aren’t really much in the way of escape plans, there’s nothing particularly scary about it (besides, of course, that the country was and still is such a way). Instead, we get a twist that seems apparent, and once it’s revealed, the movie’s basic conclusion is… simple.
I referred to Get Out earlier because the whole time, the viewer knew something was afoot. They weren’t sure what, but the film planted clues throughout and whenever the film reached it’s reveal, you realized just how clever it all was the whole time. Even Us, which didn’t blow my mind, had a great setup and had a great way of keeping us guessing what it all really meant.
Antebellum either should’ve gone this route, or gone with a revenge story, or something. Instead, it’s your usual slavery movie, with a twist, then it ends as you’d expect it to. The performances from Monae and Jena Malone are top notch, and the film hasn’t been made with ineptitude. There just aren’t enough tricks up this film’s sleeve, basically, and seeing as there isn’t much in the way of intrigue, Antebellum, in the end, ends up being too much of a so-so thing.