“The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” William Faulkner
The quote chosen for the title card of the new film ANTEBELLUM is not just revelatory for the story, but also well-fitting for the social climate in which it is being released. Now, it’s the latter part of that statement that I believe will make the film intolerable for some – either because of the heaviness of the topic, with a modern twist, or the trauma fatigue from the racial inequality battle many of us are currently experiencing.
Here’s the (non-spoiler) synopsis: Dr. Veronica Henley (Janelle Monae) is a successful sociologist, author, and motivational speaker whose life becomes mysteriously connected to a Civil War era slave named Eden (also Monae). Veronica finds herself trapped in Eden’s reality, as she’s forced to face the past and fight to return to her future.
For me, the hardest part about watching Antebellum wasn’t the weight of its topic, but the uncoordinated parts of the story. There are attempts to impose horror on the audience, outside of the atrocities of enslavement, that really fall flat. And it definitely is more psychological thriller, mixed with a little bit of torture porn, than scare.
But what I absolutely loved about the film was the female empowerment angle, with Monae delivering a strong performance of a woman subjected to a harrowing circumstance, from which she must rescue herself. And Gabourey Sidibe, as Dr. Henley’s friend Dawn, completely owns her cameo – even though she presents as a wealthier and more secure version of Becky from Empire.
And contrary to its dark theme, the film is visually stunning with some truly remarkable set design and costuming choices – note Monae’s wardrobe as Henley especially.
Is it possible to experience American slavery in current times, and how far away are the horrors of the past, is the conundrum posed by Antebellum. Although it doesn’t fulfill its promise of interweaving the thriller, horror and mystery genres, and I felt the story could have been more connected, it is thought-provoking, and I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Henley’s actions in the final act. I rate it 2.5 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
ANTEBELLUM is out now on VOD. You can watch a clip from the film below, and go to the AAFCA Channel here to watch an interview with directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz – who discussed the film with the AAFCA fam after we screened earlier in September.
Until next thought, Thomasena