Successful author Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality that forces her to confront the past, present and future – before it’s too late.
Closing your eyes in the year 2020 only to open them back up realizing you’ve gone back in time 150+ years would be beyond alarming for anyone. If you were a Black person and this horrific nightmare occurred to you, suicide most likely would be the first option to come to mind, and it would be exceedingly difficult to find someone to blame you. This is the predicament that successful author Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) finds herself in during this tragic story. Is it magic? Are the characters hypnotized, or did someone actually create a time machine? These are the puzzling questions you ask yourself as the plot unravels, and the mystery behind how such events happened is what pulls you in.
One of the positive aspects of the film is the opening. It clearly lets you know what period of time you’re in, giving you long takes and wide shots of the environment to create a tone of what you’re in store for. While the events taking place may be hard for some viewers to watch, I feel the film did justice making the audience feel uncomfortable enough with going overboard with scenes of Black brutality torture porn. The wardrobe department stood out, and you could feel the emotion coming from all the actors, whether they were on the right or wrong side of history.
If you want to know how sick and demented the mindsets of a racist/white supremacist are watch this movie! Directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz did an outstanding job of depicting how delusional these evil demons were back during American Chattel Slavery, and how they still are today. It also helps when you have a character like Captain Jasper (Jack Huston) that’s wicked to his core for no reason other than to fill some imaginary hole in his life. He was obsessed and was so great in his ungodly performance that his character was scary.
However, he wasn’t the only character that stood out. Janelle Monáe continues to shine in Hollywood as this film is her first performance as a lead actress. While I can’t say I enjoyed her role throughout the entire film, she did show how much range she has as an actress in both the first and third acts of the film. During the end of the film’s final confrontation, I found myself cheering her on, jumping for joy, as she sought justice from those that had foul unholy ways. Her character Veronica was a respectable one, to say the least. She was educated with her doctorate, was an activist in her community, cared about women’s rights, and appeared to be a loving mother and wife. So there’s nothing to complain about there.
Unfortunately, while I couldn’t complain earlier this is where some things start to fall apart. If you weren’t already aware, the majority of American made films are done in a three-act structure, and Antebellum is a true textbook example of that. The first problem that I had with the film is the editing and the clear as day three-act structure. The first and second acts are out of place and should’ve been switched around for a clearer more linear form of storytelling. What they’ve done here was a decent attempt, but can cause a bit of confusion, and waters down the majority of the events in the second act.
The biggest sin is the entire second act as a whole. I’m not sure what happened but the realism from the script, dialogue, and acting went completely out of the door. It seems as if an entirely different production team came in with zero notes or experience to handle the job accordingly. While I praised Veronica’s character earlier, the delivery of her lines especially during one scene at a conference seemed like a forced lesson that was preachy, to say the least. As I watched while cringing, I couldn’t help but to say to myself, “None of this would take place like this in the real world.” While the material was very important, the presentation of it all was highly disappointing.
What makes matters worse is the character Dawn (Gabourey Sidibe). While Gabby is a great actress her character was more annoying than going to the dentist daily for two months back to back. The over-sexualization of her character was disgusting and repulsive. There is nothing wrong with a woman wanting to have sex, but when any woman yells across the room, “I WANT TO F**K! TONIGHT!” it’s very hard to respect them or take them seriously. She was loud, obnoxious, and acted as if the world owed her something.
Fortunately, things do pick back up in the third act. The majority of the time I put myself in the actresses’ shoes and realized they’re acting the scenarios out the same way I would if I were in their situation. It makes the characters and concept more relatable. While the third act wasn’t executed with perfect precision, I can honestly say that I wasn’t disappointed. This is mainly due to low expectations. The film could’ve been so much more if the filmmakers weren’t too afraid to be bolder, but they took the approach of less is more, which is a mistake if you ask me. I wanted, more, more, more of what we had in the third act. You can’t discuss it in detail, without giving away spoilers, but in some cases, the justice that was served was highly anticipated.
This film is being described as a horror, mystery, thriller. There aren’t many horrific elements to the film other than the real-life perception of it, but the mysterious thrilling vibes are actually there. What’s scary the most is that the events that took place in the film could actually be happening today in modern times. This point is made abundantly clear when the final reveal takes center stage as well. There are a ton of evil people in the world, and this film does a great job of reminding you of that. There were so many great things about this film, while simultaneously having a large heap of bad, but I still think it’s worth your time, and might even spark a worthy discussion afterwards.