“Antebellum” is the directorial debut of dynamic duo, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, who wrote the script — to which Blumhouse Productions had so much faith in that these two were given an $11 million budget to execute their vision.
Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality of being a slave in the antebellum south and must overcome a mind-bending mystery.
It’s so rare in this climate of filmmaking as a business that someone writes a script, pitches it, then gets millions of dollars to make their film. So I applaud the filmmakers for having their vision come to life.
However, one can tell that this film was not helmed by an experienced storyteller(s) because this does have the potential of being the next “Get Out” and I believe Blumhouse thought that as well. The result is this slab of clunky sequences that work fine on their own at times, but don’t mesh into a cohesive, efficient narrative.
The first act is brilliantly shot for a directorial debut. It starts with this extended one-take that is impressive, but what’s missing from all this polish is a lack of trajectory. There is this glamour present for the entire film that feels to be outweighing the thriller elements that this film is supposed to have.
There is talk of escaping this plantation for the entire first act, but it all feels so hollow. The characters especially are quite one-dimensional, the caucasion characters intentionally so — to which was done to such a comical extent that every single one of the caucasion characters is constantly screaming and frothing at the mouth that it became taxing. There is even one chance to actually develop a three-dimensional character, but he instantly starts screaming out of nowhere.
I was so uninvested and bored a third of the way in, but I didn’t totally dislike the film. But suddenly, we cut to something that was literally a completely different film and genre. I thought the disc skipped. It was possibly one of the most abrupt changes in pace I’ve seen in a while, in a bad way because it was so off-putting.
You obviously figure out what’s happening fairly quick, but then this second act has the exact same problem the first had, nothing happens. This is a film that has so much going on, but at the same time, nothing happens in the entire film.
Then the entire second act is catch-up, and that “catch-up” is so meandering and verbose. It is a completely different film. There were just so many “what?” moments throughout the film. The final act is definitely the most thrilling and exciting part of the film because something is finally happening, but at that point, you just don’t care anymore.
I believe the overwhelmingly negative response to this film has nothing to do with politics or racial discussion, but rather down to expectations. Blumhouse is primarily known for horror, and “Antebellum” is barely a drama; there aren’t any horror elements other than the horrific idea of slavery, which the filmmakers themselves tried to turn into a horror element in itself, I think.
The intention is confusing as to what is supposed to be the horror elements in this “horror” film. As for a thriller, this doesn’t come close to the word “thrilling.”
What this film needs is something more internal for this main character, Veronica, because nobody feels three-dimensional here. Perhaps a stronger emotional anchor establishes much earlier on so that the audience can grasp onto her character, which would then make the slower bits more investing and the ending satisfying.
This film is ambitious and, unlike most Blumhouse films, this doesn’t feel like a cash-in seeing that these filmmakers wrote this script and were passionate enough about it to go to Blumhouse. So the intention is pure, but the lack of experience in their storytelling abilities — especially something this complex — definitely shows.