There are good ideas and a more than capable cast in “Antebellum,” yet the film as a whole is, unfortunately, a mess.
The picture follows Eden (Janelle Monae), a Black woman who appears at first to be a slave during the 1800s at the height of the Civil War. The plantation she and others appear to be at is surrounded and controlled by a unit of Confederate soldiers.
As the film progresses, more truths are learned about the plantation and additional background is provided about who Eden is. With tensions building, Eden begins considering an escape plan.
This is a freshman feature effort by writer-director duo Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. It really shows. “Antebellum” has some good concepts at play but the plot is very poorly put together.
A glaring issue is the film’s attempt at a twist, which happens in an awful transition between the first and second halves. The film pulls the twist off by having the movie not be in chronological order.
By the film’s conclusion, one wonders why the creators went in this direction. The movie could have been in chronological order, and its social commentary would have remained the same. Instead, viewers are treated to a rather jarring cinematic experience because of the plot structure.
Another issue with “Antebellum” is its mixed tone. In some moments, the picture seems to lean toward a more grounded, serious thriller. During others, though, especially in the climax, the movie goes into territory of a more over-the-top, exploitation horror flick.
Considering what happens in the third act, going all in with just being a horror-action movie with a “Django Unchained” vibe could have been a better fit. The main concept is just too absurd for a more grounded feature.
It’s a shame because the cast is strong here. Monae is quite good in the lead role, especially as she portrays her character’s will to survive. The supporting performances are fine, too.
With a more clear tone and identity, along with a better structure, “Antebellum” could have worked. Its cast is up to the task, but the film is let down in a lot of other areas. 2 out of 5.