Antebellum is ambitiously framed and impeccably shot, acting as part blunt reflection and part trippy time-loop hybrid. It's messy, shocking and needed all the same. Hats off to both Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz for going all the way with it.
Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz‘s Antebellum has dropped on most streaming platforms for a premium video on-demand experience, after having been shuffled around the theatrical calendar before deciding to head straight to the home entertainment market. Billed as a movie from a producer of Get Out and Us, Antebellum is a mysteriously dark look at our past, while engaging with our present and looking towards the future. It’s a film that relies heavily on its mysterious time loop twist explanation that makes way for a shocking experience that’s mostly executed with skill and craft.
Eden’s (Janelle Monae) life as a slave on a plantation during the days of the Civil War is harsh, with her freedoms stripped and squeezed out of her daily by Captain Jasper (Jack Huston), Senator Denton (Jack Lange) and Elizabeth (Jena Malone). But she stays strong, reminding others that their day of freedom will soon come, with an escape almost imminent.
Fast forward to present time, where Veronica (also Janelle Monae) is an empowered black woman fighting for equal rights for all minorities. Veronica is happily married, with a husband and daughter that she loves more than anything else. She uses this love as motivation and strength as she continues to fill her busy schedule with speeches, book tours and press conferences that engage others with different beliefs in hopes to bring people closer to together and bridge the gap of racism and gender inequality.
Antebellum unfolds as these two stories set years apart start to merge together and reveal a shocking story with a twist that is either going to have you sitting back in your chair, clapping in awe or writing this one off as one of the silliest movies of the year.
There is no need to sugarcoat Antebellum‘s intentions as writers/directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz aim to shock, unsettle, empower and move those that give this film a chance.
They do this in a slightly unorthodox way, introducing a time loop element to the story that would surely spoil the fun if I spoke any further to it. So I will leave that part mostly absent from this review.
But what I can talk about is just how well constructed the film is. Bush and Renz have created a film that feels modern and polished, yet brutal and unrelenting in its depiction of slavery and oppression in both the past and modern times.
The opening sequence is hauntingly beautiful, capturing the horrors and tragedy through breathtaking lighting, a thumping score and a wide display of emotions. I was not ready for Antebellum and yet that unknown is part of what made the film hit me so hard.
Meanwhile, the modern day content isn’t nearly as moving, but does introduce a fair bit of mystery as the film slowly starts to piece itself together from various aspects in time. It might confuse you at first, but it will all make sense once the film strings things together.
And this is where I feel most will be challenged. You will have to face the film’s turning point and either accept what Bush and Renz have laid out and get on board for the big climax or you will simply walk away with a feeling of regret for dropping $19.99 on a film that surely looks stunning in Dolby Vision 4K and sounds even better with its Dolby ATMOS mix.
I for one think Antebellum deserves every dollar that it gets, because it makes such bold strokes, even though they don’t all payoff.
The ending showdown falls apart into shambles quickly. Its conclusion feels more like an afterthought than a well-planned idea that was executed with deliberation.
The performances of this film also range from gut-wrenching good (Janelle Monae, Tongayi Chirisa) to so over-the-top bad (Jena Malone). It reaches a point where the film leaves a polarizing representation of quality. I can’t tell if this is two artists coming together, as both Bush and Renz co-wrote and co-directed the film or if both men needed to let this one simmer a bit more before bringing to fruition.
This doesn’t make Antebellum a bad film, but a film that I wouldn’t be boasting as a close relation to Get Out or Us. Jordan Peele‘s efforts as one of the modern masters of psychological horror is untouched by Antebellum, which is a film that feels like the wild cousin of such productions.
Antebellum is weirder and far less put together in terms of its overall effectiveness. It’s still a mighty film that speaks loudly and without filter and for that I praise Bush and Renz for bringing this one to life and for going all the way in their vision.
Antebellum is a horrifying reminder of our cruel past that’s also a modern day battle on our current oppressions and societal issues. It smartly brings them together in a hybrid fashion that makes for a film worth unraveling and revisiting for its effectiveness to truly settle in. It’s messy and noisy from a writing perspective, but what Bush and Renz lack with the pen they make up for with the camera.
This movie looked absolutely stunning on my Apple TV 4K and I would highly suggest those interested in it to seek it out and give it your full attention.