Director: Gerard Bush & Christopher Renz
Runtime: 105 minutes
Cast: Janelle Monáe, Marque Richardson II, Eric Lange, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, Tongayi Chirisa, Gabourey Sidibe, Robert Aramayo, Lily Cowles, Jena Malone
Synopsis: Successful author Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality and must uncover the mind-bending mystery before it’s too late.
Antebellum is the feature writing/directorial debuts of Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz.
The singer, model Janelle Monáe [Hidden Figures (2016), Moonlight (2016)] takes an impressive lead in this intense horror thriller about a successful black author who is somehow transported back to a 19th-century Louisiana slave plantation. Produced by the team behind Get Out and Us, it displays their trademark mix of thrills and social critique.
The non-chronological narrative first establishes the struggles of a resilient slave Eden (Monáe), consistently beaten and branded by her owner, a Confederate general (Eric Lange). However the narrative then leaps forward to Veronica Henley’s (also Monáe) privileged 21st-century existence (yoga, lecture tours and a book about “intersectionality in race, class and gender”) and then traces the connection between these two eras.
Antebellum is prefaced by a quote from Nobel Prize winning American writer William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
The film’s depiction of slavery is naturally brutal. Antebellum opens with scenes of a Civil War-era plantation. We see a drowsy Monáe being brought in, draped over a horse, while Confederate soldiers try to violently prevent an enslaved Black woman from running away – but something is odd.
It becomes more confusing when these scenes are juxtaposed against a modern-day America, where Veronica is due to speak at a conference in New Orleans. At first, her only connection to Eden appears to be a nightmare she had earlier in the film, but she also encounters figures from the plantation scenes.
Antebellum is a tough watch with its vivid depiction of the horrors of slavery. The final twist brings a message that responds to the current events of Black Lives Matter. Rather than just a scary horror film, Antebellum also comes across as a savage thriller with a history lesson about the racism of slavery and how racism is still a problem in the world today.
Streaming on digital platforms, Sky Cinema, Now
Images courtesy of LIONSGATE UK