Review by James Lindorf
“Antebellum” is the feature-length debut for the directing team of Gerard Bush and Christoper Renz. It is a story about, no matter how much things change, the more they stay the same. Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) is a wife, mother, political pundit, and an accomplished author. A chance encounter with the unusual and aggressive Elizabeth (Jena Malone) results in Veronica finding herself trapped in a horrifying reality that blurs time.
Lionsgate put the fact that two producers who worked on the magnificent Get Out also took an interest in this film right up front in the trailers. This raises the expectations to unfair levels for a first-time creative team with a mere 14-million-dollar budget. Writers and directors deserve to be applauded anytime they shine a light on the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same. True equality is still a long time, and a lot of work from being realized. Artfully capturing this fact is indeed a worthy and challenging task to undertake.
It is a shame that “Antebellum” wasn’t successful in building its mystery and engaging an audience for the full 105-minute runtime. Starting a movie further on in the story, then flashing back to show how the protagonist got to that point is not uncommon. What is unusual is to stay in the “future” for nearly 40 minutes before going back to the beginning. This creates a very disjointed feeling. So much time is spent in Veronica’s new reality that the story of how and why she ends up there is extremely underdeveloped. The trailers imply some supernatural elements like, instead of being sent to the sunken place, Veronica is somehow transported to the pre-civil war south. Unfortunately, the truth is far more pedestrian. It deals more with white fragility and the Alt Right’s obsession with the past, which is no real mystery. It is something we can see on the news nightly.
While the story of “Antebellum” is lackluster, it has two significant strengths in its favor. It is a very well-acted film all around, and Janelle Monae and Kiersey Clemons are destined to be stars if they pick the right roles. The dialogue between Veronica and her friends and family is natural and often quite funny. It is a real success for Bush and Renz. The second standout element of the film is the cinematography of Pedro Luque (Don’t Breath). “Antebellum”, save for an obnoxiously long slow-motion segment, is beautifully filmed from opening to close. Luque balances the vibrant color-filled day time scenes and the rich but subdued palette of the night time scenes masterfully.
“Antebellum” has a lot going for it, but it fails to cross the finish line with a coherent story. Maybe pushing the movie out to a full two hours would have given them the time they needed to explore what was happening to Veronica. Instead, “Antebellum” will live on as a valiant attempt and a possible launching point for many talented people.
Rating: R (for disturbing violent content, language, and sexual references)
Genre: Horror, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz
Written By: Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz
In Theaters: Aug 21, 2020 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: September 18th, 2020
Runtime: 105 minutes
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