Antebellum Review: Janelle Monáe Deserved Better

Successful author Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality that forces her to confront the past, present and future – before it’s too late.


The Good:

If there were a bright spot to Antebellum, it would be Janelle Monáe’s performance in the film. She appeared to be natural in her demeanor, and during the more stressful moments to Janelle was incredibly convincing. Monáe was the driving the force in the film and she keeps your attention all the way through. I think the best aspect to her character is how relatable she seemed. Unlike most horror movies, Monáe didn’t fall victim to playing her character in a way that seems inauthentic or ridiculous. You connect with her from beginning to end because her acting has you convinced from the very first scene she’s in.

I think some additional kudos should be passed on to the supporting cast as well. Jack Huston played his role a little too well as the Confederate Captain. He absolutely made me loath his character which is just a testament to how well he acted. Gabby Sidibe was also a nice bit of comic relief to lighten up the mood at times. I enjoyed her character’s energy and presence even if it were a bit extra at times.

The Bad:

The biggest issue with Antebellum is the editing and flow of the story. The first act doesn’t make sense once you get to the second act. It’s structured to create some sort of mystery to have audiences wondering. However, I don’t think it succeeded in evoking people to ask the right questions. The second act was introduced poorly and it simply created far too much confusion about the first act. As a result the final act of the movie loses a lot of impact when the big mystery is finally revealed.

Another issue was some of the cheesy cinematography. Some of it felt way too staged and it came across more like a bunch of promo shots for a trailer. One scene in particular that I’m referring to is the “fire scene” which probably made more sense on paper than it did on screen. Plus, the final shot with all the yelling and riding just continued to feel awkward and strange. The intention behind the scene is perfectly understood, however the execution is questionable at best.

Lastly, this film makes an admirable attempt to communicate some powerful themes, but much of that was completely lost. There was a theme about the past not being the past but that was lost in translation. There really isn’t enough time to dwell on the themes that were at play because there was too much confusion created in trying to understand what exactly is going on. Not to mention, the transition of time wasn’t handled well either. Ultimately, the themes that were intended here only performed through dialogue rather than being manifested in a meaningful and lasting way for audiences.

The Verdict:

Antebellum walked a dangerous path utilizing triggering moments of slavery only to come up short with anything meaningful to say. I felt completely short changed with this film and most definitely disappointed. The marketing of Antebellum does play some part in this too because I was sold the impression that this was going to be some Jordan Peele level of work. (Hence the credit even on the movie poster saying “From the producer of Get Out”. ) Well needless to say, this was nothing close to Get Out or Us.  Don’t get me wrong, there was certainly a nice foundation and idea that probably could’ve worked out better in a different filmmaker’s hands.

On a more personal level, as a black man, given all that’s been going on with the racial and social unrest, watching a slave movie isn’t something I take lightly. This isn’t something I want to normalize or watch casually given how easy it is to literally see myself as the enslaved characters that are portraying a very real event in history. If and when I do give such a mental investment to a film, I’d like to think that at least I can come away with something valuable like being blown away with an amazing performance, or be left with some seriously reflective ideas to ponder afterwards. None of that happened for me, and thus I felt used and abused with this film. Now I get to think about the horrible mistreatment of Black people in America and the curious notion as to why this film couldn’t have been better. With that said, while I won’t tell people not to see Antebellum, you won’t find a recommendation to see it here.

Director: Gerard Bush & Christopher Renz
Writer: Gerard Bush & Christopher Renz
Stars: Janelle Monáe, Marque Richardson II, Eric Lange, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, Tongayi Chirisa, Gabourey Sidibe, Rob Aramayo, Lily Cowles, and Jena Malone

ANTEBELLUM is available on digital release September 18, 2020. Be sure to follow E-Man’s Movie Reviews on Facebook, Subscribe on YouTube, or follow me on Twitter/IG @EmansReviews for even more movie news and reviews!

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  • Acting - 6/10
  • Cinematography - 4/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 4/10
  • Setting/Theme - 5/10
  • Buyability - 5/10
  • Recyclability - 3/10
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About Emmanuel "E-Man" Noisette

Emmanuel is a Rotten Tomatoes Approved, Chicago film critic who founded Eman's Movie Reviews. He's contributed to other outlets such as ScreenRant andThe Wrap, and has been featured on television such as MSNBC. Be sure to join the other fans on his Facebook Fan Page for even more movie opinions and fun. Feel free to contact him with any professional inquiries: [email protected]

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