Antebellum follows an African American rights activist as she is seemingly transported to a slave plantation in the South during the Civil War. As more innocents are dragged to the plantation, she must find out what's going on and how to get out.
While films that discuss race and the atrocities of the past are not a modern practice, Antebellum still manages to feel incredibly pertinent to our current condition, making it an important film with a valuable message. Using psychological horror as a vehicle, the film uses its various sets to discuss subtle, systemic, and blatant racism in various formats and platforms. Much like Get Out tackled racism in several of its nasty forms, Antebellum ups the ante (pun NAILED) with brutal depictions of slavery in parallel with the less apparent versions we see often today.
As I often mention here, horror can be a powerful tool for messages. It can be used to deliver them in subtle or obvious ways. In the case of Antebellum, it is very clear what we are meant to pull from the film. We still have issues with race and we need to pay attention. I admittedly don't follow politics well enough to speak on them comfortably, but I do feel comfortable enough to say that we should treat everyone with respect and love. And given that this is a movie review, still, that is as far as I will speak directly to the subject matter!
I want to praise the directing (Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz), cinematography (Pedro Luque), and acting (lead actress Janelle Monae in particular), and music (Nate Wonder, Roman Gianarthur). Right from the beginning of the film, the powerful, seamless shots combined with an unsettling yet rhythmic score left me engaged and devastated by the happenings on screen. This artful mastery is carried throughout the entirety of the film, keeping a dramatic flow amidst its unsettling nature. I can't speak highly enough of the technical skill at work throughout the runtime.
But I do have two critiques. One such critique involves the pacing. And I can't honestly put my finger on it. There was just something about the pace that seemed to drag at times. There were moments where the film felt much longer than its hour and forty-five minutes imply. Perhaps it was that some scenes seemed to deliver their plot point, but carried out longer than necessary. Or perhaps not enough cuts between our two primary settings, especially considering we are left in the dark on the actual happenings for a majority of the film. When we know not all is as it seems, it sometimes helps the mind progress through the plot when we are introduced to new elements more frequently, even if the change of scenery still keeps things in the shadows. But, I'm flailing about for answers centered on a question that is more than a feeling conveyed than an inherent issue with the film...And the other major critique I had of the film isn't actually with the film itself. But in order to break that down, I will be ruining the film in its entirety, so...
I have not been tricked by a trailer this badly since...well...EVER. I've seen trailers cut so well and with such perfect music choice that they appear far more entertaining than they actually are. I've seen trailers that use clips removed from the final cut of the movie. I've seen trailers pull all of the best moments (a problem in many scare-based horror films). But I don't think I've ever seen a movie edit footage of a film to completely change the concept of the movie. It may have just been a clip removed, that the filmmakers changed their mind halfway through production, but to put the clip in the trailer is the epitome of false advertising.
Based on the trailer, one would assume there is some level of sci-fi element to the film. The primary clip in question is in reference to the plane that blips in and out of the sky. This, in combination with the way the trailer is cut, implies a sci-fi framework from which the film operates. So imagine my disappointment when this sci-fi touch is entirely absent. Nothing disappoints me more in a film than when the twist is that...well...there isn't one, and it's nothing. Perhaps there was a point with the false trailer...a purposeful mislead...but I found it frustrating rather than surprising.
I found Antebellum to be a great piece of filmmaking with a story told through strengths in every element of production. I adore films that bring everything together without a weakness, and Antebellum succeeds in this. Yet somehow, it still isn't perfect and manages to have lulls in the pacing a few times. But I recommend it for most to see, under the warning that its place in genre is nothing like the trailer implies.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 7/10
Horror Quality: 5/10
Film Quality: 8/10