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  Antebellum Where White Folks Are The Devil
Year: 2020
Director: Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz
Stars: Janelle Monáe, Jena Malone, Gabourey Sidibe, Jack Huston, Eric Lange, Tongayi Chirisa, Kiersey Clemons, Lily Cowles, Marque Richardson, Robert Aramayo, T.C. Matherne, Grace Junot, London Boyce, Achok Majak, Arabella Landrum, Victoria Blade
Genre: Horror, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Eden (Janelle Monáe) is a slave on a plantation in America's Deep South, witnessing horrendous brutality every day and powerless to do anything about it. Just today she has seen a black woman murdered by the white soldiers she was trying to escape from, as her husband struggled to save her and looked on with horror as she begged them to kill her, something they gleefully obliged with. Now, there have been new arrivals at the plantation, some given names by the lady of the house, Elizabeth (Jena Malone), including one pregnant slave who Eden recognises some of herself in as a victim. But all is not what it seems...

If you haven't worked out the twist within a couple of minutes of Antebellum beginning, then you're just not thinking enough, because it was glaringly obvious what this plantation actually was, and once you had the measure of it then you would find it a bit of a grind as it played out as if it was being very clever in sustaining its mystery. But there was no real mystery, for it was all too clear what Eden had gotten mixed up in, and when around half an hour in we switched to what was supposed to be the present day to follow Veronica, also played by Monáe in no coincidence, the shocks would most likely not succeed with you when you were pondering "We know!"

Directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Benz were making their debut feature, and it was attractively photographed initially until you wonder, well, who wants a film about the atrocities of slavery to be attractively photographed? Some complained it was not an authentic horror movie, but they did not stint on the unpleasantness of the day to day victimisation that would have been involved, and nor should they, but if anything they should have gone further if they really wanted to bring the ghastliness of the situation home to twenty-first century audiences, as again, they were too keen on prolonging their premise by dropping clunking hints and winking knowingly at the viewer.

Bush said the idea for the movie came to him in a dream he had, a nightmare in fact, though one would suggest he had been reading Octavia Butler's classic novel Kindred before bedtime and it was that which gave him the idea, since there were too many similarities to the way this narrative was established, indicating the filmmakers couldn't get the rights to that book and hared off on their own path instead. If the way this was extrapolated from the notion that the more extreme ends of the Republican Party hankered after a past that was too racist for any reasonable person to wish to return to was heavy-handed, to say the least, it would nevertheless have been promising material for something along the lines of a Purge instalment, which were similarly overemphatic but contained a trashy verve missing here.

Instead, far too long was spent on setting up Veronica as a right on teacher of her community on what to look out for to know when they're dealing with prejudice: we see her give a lecture (quoting Karl Marx!) to an applauding hall of ladies of colour, yet shortly after when she is in danger, she walks right into it ignoring her own lessons, despite the villains going as far as sending her a bouquet of cotton (!) to make their intentions plain. Not to mention the amount of time given over to Gabourey Sidibe to sass the place out as some bizarre comedy relief in a film that otherwise was trying to be gravely serious. By the time we reached the grand finale, for some reason the directors chose to shoot it in a barely discernible gloom, though bearing in mind it was yet another movie asking us to be satisfied that two women were knocking seven bells out of one another, maybe it's for the best we couldn't make out the details. When the revelation comes, the questions about how this could have been sustained are too numerous for credibility. Worth seeing to witness how badly fumbled it was, but wouldn't start many useful debates - it had an open goal and it missed it. Music by Roman GianArthur and Nate Wonder.

[Lionsgate UK presents Antebellum on Digital Download, Blu-ray and DVD 2 August 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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