“Antebellum” opens with the famous William Faukner quote, “The past is never dead, it is not even the past.” This quote embodies the main theme of the film: Racism and oppression are still alive for Black Americans.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t have much to offer past that thesis statement. What plays out for the 106-minute runtime of the movie is a painfully predictable horror movie that fails to deliver on a unique premise.
The film opens with a five-minute tracking shot through a Louisiana plantation run by the Confederate army. This opening shot is the high point of the movie. The ghost-like movement of the camera, the use of slow motion and the operatic music add up to make an incredibly haunting opening shot, which ends with one of the slaves seeing his wife mercilessly shot by confederate soldiers.
The movie introduces us to the protagonist of the film, Eden, one of the slaves on the plantation played by Janelle Monàe. Eden befriends Julia, a pregnant slave, and tells her to remain calm until they find a way out of their situation.
The movie takes place in this location and time period until halfway through when we are introduced to Veronica, a sociologist also played by Janelle Monàe, living in the modern day. This is where the momentum of the film completely grinds to a halt. Most people watching the movie will likely already guess the twist ending coming up, which makes the second half a bore to get through. The third act goes back to the plantation where the climax and twist ending of the film play out.
One of the biggest issues with the film is that it plays out like a mystery, but the twist is incredibly predictable. The film also fails to deliver any genuine scares or haunting imagery past the opening shot.
Watching “Antebellum” was like watching a really good opening act of a horror film stretched out to the runtime of an entire movie. The whole film seems like nothing happens because it is building up to some amazing ending that never arrives.
It’s a shame too because “Antebellum” seemed poised to continue the amazing streak of “Twilight Zone”-esque horror films that Jordan Peele directed, which included “Get Out” and “Us,” which both dealt with racial tension in America.
“Antebellum” lacks the attention to detail and sly humor that made “Get Out” and “Us” so memorable and entertaining. This could be chalked up to “Antebellum” being directed by first-time directors.
Ultimately, what makes “Antebellum” so disappointing is that you can see the potential for a really good movie in it. The premise is great, but it feels like it was a few rewrites away from being successful. Given that because of the pandemic, the movie is $20 to rent, it is difficult to fully recommend.