In Brief: Messages about the horror and insanity of racism are absolutely wasted in this absolutely horrible horror movie.
Writing a movie can be a slippery slope. You can have a great idea and ruin it with poor filmmaking, editing and overall execution. Other times that unique plot gets lost in the muddled writing of the script. Then there are film ideas that have threads of originality but those threads just never, quite get sewn together.
Yes, it’s a bad metaphor but it perfectly defines Antebellum. The movie combines all three and is badly filmed, badly edited and badly written, and just never quite comes together.
The story is the brainchild of first time feature movie writer/directors and social justice advocates, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. It starts early in the Civil War. Janelle Monea is a slave in a camp that deals with difficult slaves. She’s tortured, abused and forced to be the mistress of a high-up officer in the Confederate Army.
Making horrible conditions even worse, the woman and the other slaves are terrorized by a captain who runs the show.
Antebellum also has a modern day component. Monea plays an author and sociologist Veronica Henley. She has a wonderful marriage and a child. Henley is beautiful, smart and successful and a leader in the women’s movement.
Veronica is much in demand as a speaker.
After a short debate on a TV news program people from the Civil War past start showing up in her life. That’s about all I can say about the movie without giving away the twists in Antebellum’s poorly planned plot.
The two positives are Monae (Harriet) and 2009 Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Gabourey Sidbe (Precious). They play best pals and the chemistry between the two actresses is electric. Plus, Sidbe’s sassy buddy is the only fun you’ll find in a film that could have been a very good horror movie and one that actually said something about race and racial injustice.
Monae is also wasted. She is a very good actress who deserves projects that are much better than this. Monae plays both the slave and the author and does them so differently that — in places — it’s hard to tell it’s the same actress. It’s really good work and good work wasted in a movie that seems like it was rushed together.
Bringing villains from the past into the future — while also not all that original — isn’t such a bad thing either. The two writer/directors connect you with Monae’s Veronica and the slave she plays, and they connect you to the villains from Civil War Louisiana. That part of the movie works very, very well.
Once the film moves into the present and stays there, Bush and Renz fail to have the villains do much of anything. Nor do they connect her — or you — to them. They set Jena Malone, Eric Lang and Jack Huston up as perfect bad guys and then give them very little to do.
Such a waste.
The two authors try to use a horror concept to convey concerns about race that we’re all dealing with today. Early on the statements made about slavery and racism work. Their opening sequence is a long, continuous shot where the camera walks through the camp. It is incredible. Bush and Renz paint a powerful picture of just how awful slavery was and how poorly the slaves were treated.
I’m of the school of thought that if you’re going to make a social statement then it needs to be made with authority. The early message is subtle and works. By the time you move into the present, the message isn’t said very well.
I’m not sure why.
This is just conjecture but maybe they hurried to get a final product edited to capitalize on today’s social unrest. It’s the perfect movie for the times. However, this perfect for the times film is so flawed that it’s almost unwatchable.
Bush and Renz have a great horror movie idea that — by the time you reach the climax — makes very little sense. This is where the two men try hardest to make their racial injustice point. Unfortunately — and since we’re seeing it at home and not in a theater — their movie is so bad by mid-point that a lot of people are either going to shut it off or fall asleep.
Again, message missed.
Antebellum is a story that — if flushed out a little more — could have been brilliant. Instead of giving you a breathtaking, make you think, “oh, wow” climax, the film’s ending is a head-scratching mess and is so bad it had me laughing.
Serious social messages hidden in a horror movie aren’t supposed to make you laugh
Directors: Ron Howard
Stars: Janelle Monae, Harriet, Jena Malone, Eric Lang, Jack Huston, Gabourey Sidbe, Kiersey Clemon
Antebellum is a waste of time and — worst of all — talent. The past-present horror movie theme works in the past but not in the present. Terrible movie. Give Antebellum a 1 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
You can find Antebellum on a number of streaming sources.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.