By David Dent
The title of Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s debut feature, which is defined as a state existing before the war, and a quote from William Faulkner which opens the movie – “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” – sets the tone for a film which is one part ‘Westworld’, two parts M. Night Shyamalan melon twister, and all parts angry.
Eden (Janelle Monae) is one of a number of slaves on a Louisiana cotton plantation, run by the sadistic Confederate Captain Jasper (Jack Huston). Jasper and his cronies dole out merciless punishment to the slaves, raping, shooting and even burning them alive in a specially designed ‘smoke house.’ Between Eden and her fellow plantation workers is a defined need to turn on their aggressors and escape, but Eden, who is feisty enough to suffer a branding by her ‘owner’ before she will even tell him her name, counsels caution.
How Eden got into this position takes up the middle part of the film, but any disclosure would spoil the movie’s big reveal. Suffice it to say that everything both is and isn’t as it seems. It’s also the least satisfying part of the movie: rather than surprising me, it just left a load of unanswered questions.
But the anger of the piece – slightly diluted by the tricksy turn of events – shines through here. A thinly disguised takedown of Trump’s divided America, the final scenes of revenge, and Eden on horseback screaming her head off, reminded me of late 1960s Vietnam reaction movies like ‘Soldier Blue’. The central conceit of ‘Antebellum’ gets in the way of developing any real dramatic tension, but its underlying indignation at the state of things remains consistent. Problematic and thematically a bit clunky maybe, but it’s Monae’s justifiable anger you’ll remember.
Watch the trailer for Antebellum below –