The latest movie battle on modern day racism is a cop out.
Janelle Monae plays a slave named Eden, and a successful author, sociologist, and activist named Veronica Henley in “Antebellem,” the new psychological thriller from producer Sean McKittrick (“Us,” “Get Out”) and newcomer filmmakers Gerald Bush and Christopher Renz. It splices the genes of “12 Years a Slave” with “Get Out,” but it never really seems to deliver on its premise. It tricks you into thinking you’re watching an epic, but then misleads you in a different direction.
According to the trailers, I was expecting the movie to have Monae’s modern day character merge with her past character, pondering how she got there, and why she’s victim of slavery? She does give an intense and passionate performance as both her characters in the ways she deals with the convictions of reality. But not even her acting could tame the script.
The first 40 minutes of “Antebellum” shows us a slave plantation commandeered by the Confederate army, led by Captain Jasper (Jack Huston). We see Eden taking abuse from a Confederate officer (Eric Lange), to the point of her developing cynicism and patience. She tries to be stern with a pregnant slave (Kiersey Clemons) from North Carolina, who suffers from a miscarriage after being beaten by a young soldier (Robert Aramayo), and there’s also another slave named Eli (Tongayi Chirisa), who weeps over the murder of his wife.
And as the 40 minute mark hits, we see Veronica as a strong woman with a loving husband (Marque Richardson) and little girl (London Boyce). She uses her books to fight for equality for race and gender, while complaining to her relationship specialist friend (Gabourey Sidibe) about her stress over balancing her work and family life.
I much rather prefer the before than the after deal, because the first segment has pure acting (kudos to Monae, Lange, Clemons, Huston, and Chirisa) and strong emotions, while the next segment seems to be run-of-the-mill with its generic supporting characters and plain storyline. It practically wants to be “The Shining,” when Veronica begins to see strange things occurring around her presence, including a bouquet of flowers with cotton on them, a portrait of a slave plantation at a hotel concierge desk, a little girl dressed in 19th century clothing in an elevator.
And it also wants to be “Get Out,” when she gets abducted by people who resemble Jasper and his wife (Jena Malone). That’s when she ends up in the past, and that’s when she puts her courage and determination inside herself to escape from the plantation. But I don’t think she’s really is in the past, considering the fact that we see the Confederate officer waking up to his ringing cellphone. I don’t even think that was really Eden. So, what is this? The ending of “The Village,” some kind of simulation of the plantation, or some kind of reincarnation of the main slave? There’s no explanation to this.
“Antebellum” is yet another movie to skip the theatrical release and go straight to TV or the internet at the cost of $20. You might be disappointed in how the movie plays out, and you might be won by how it fights racism. I commend the movie on that notion, and I wish Bush and Renz the best of luck in their future movie careers, but I felt it should have taken a different approach. It basically jumps to conclusions or whatever this is, and that’s not much of a winner.
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