Antebellum, Affecting Torture Porn

***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***

Antebellum was clearly greenlit on the heels of Get Out, as it’s another attempt to tell a story about modern-day racism through the lens of Hollywood Horror. Unlike Get Out though, Antebellum doesn’t seem to harbor much of a point beyond reminding us of the basic reality of bigotry’s persistence. Janelle Monae is a more-than-suitable heroine as Veronica, steel-toed and headstrong when facing the world in her exciting day-to-day hustle as a mother, wife, writer and leading academic on intersectionality, and on the cusp of giving up while facing a new reality: she’s been kidnapped and forced into slavery with others on a remote plantation somewhere in the south. Once a fellow prisoner (Kiersey Clemons) commits the unthinkable, her quiet suffering falls prey, falls away to reveal vengeful perseverance that makes Antebellum’s final half hour undeniably pretty thrilling, if not at all scary.

It’s unfortunate then that prior to a somewhat compelling climax there’s an hour and change of emotional and physical torture porn to sit and sift through. Antebellum is what some well-meaning but misguided critics accused Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit of a few years ago. It’s a didactic film about racism with nothing to say, nothing to show us beyond black men and women struggling under the fascist thumb of a few white folk played by the likes of Jena Malone and Jack Huston. In a true story about slavery or civil rights, such imagery is powerful, even necessary. In a fictional quasi-horror film exaggerating and rendering cartoonish the very real threat of white supremacist violence in 2020, it’s unnecessary and arguably irresponsible. There’s some joshing about William Faulkner’s famous quote “the past is never dead,” a quite obvious statement given the context. If the filmmakers’ intention is to reach the open-minded but uninformed and uneducated (a pretty slim demo I imagine), then such academic posturing would be apt perhaps. However, simple aphorisms abound, turning Veronica into an approximation of liberal intelligence instead of an actual, flesh-and-blood representation of it.

Antebellum gets by on stylish verve from directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz (the rare live-action filmmaking duo) and an intriguing score by Nate Wonder and Roman GianArthur. An opening single take tracking shot conveying the geography of this horrific plantation is set to a disquieting and memorable theme that could’ve become a classic ring if the movie were good enough to warrant such a status. Similarly unnerving are the soundtrack choices in the moment when Veronica is kidnapped in a black SUV to the tune of modern industrial music. Given Monae’s integral involvement in the making of this film, it would make sense that the musical choices are a cut above most thrillers. A final scene showcasing the pinnacle of Veronica’s attempt at escape is harrowing and even moving, mostly thanks to Wonder and GianArthur’s powerful notes. It’s hyperbolic and disingenuous to call Antebellum “disgusting.” On the other hand, the film is nevertheless something of a tortuous experience, a twist in search of a movie and a failed exercise in horror, in search of scares that never come.

Grade: C+

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.