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Monday, August 31, 2020

[Review] ‘Antebellum’ Gives Unflinching, Heavy-Handed Lesson in History’s Horrors

While we live in the present, we should always look to the past to understand change and development, moral contemplation, and how we can learn from mistakes. History is full of mistakes. Bloody, violent mistakes that shaped the trajectory of the world. In terms of American history, the Antebellum South marked a period of actualized horrors so unsettling that its lessons are watered down in the classroom. Antebellum creates terror from history, using its ugliness to force confrontation and reflection from the audience.

Antebellum opens with a long tracking shot that weaves through a plantation, displaying bustling life under the bright summer sun. It ends with a harrowing depiction of a slave getting gunned down by a soldier, while a handful of men hold down her lover. Devoid of dialogue and played in slow motion, the anguish and fear on their faces are given the focus. As the camera pans back, another slave, Eden (Janelle Monáe), watches on with sorrow and remorse. From there, the first act paints a horrid picture of plantation life through the eyes of Eden, as she’s beaten, branded, and raped by her master. Through her, we see the terror that other slaves have to endure, and the cruel way plantation owners Captain Jasper (Jack Huston) and Elizabeth (Jena Malone) treat them like livestock. This dovetails with the present, in which successful author Veronica Henley (Monáe) finds herself forced to confront the past.

Written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, the glaring message here is that history is horror. They use the repulsive, disturbing realities of slavery to convey the horror here rather than the genre’s mechanics. Meaning, there’s no building of suspense or implementation of genre techniques to create scares and atmosphere. Any tension achieved is dismantled by a clunky narrative structure that plays out in three distinct acts. The sudden shift in timelines is meant to enhance the mind-bending mystery at play. Instead, it deflates momentum as it shifts from Eden’s torture in the past to the slow setup of Veronica’s story in the second act. By the third act, Antebellum struggles against its lack of tension and heavy-handedness, opting for a quick, unsatisfying exit instead.

Shot with slick cinematography and production design, the dark subject matter that belies the bright, colorful aesthetic makes it clear that Renz and Bush are emphasizing the contrast of the history we’ve been taught with the ugly truth. That doesn’t make it any less jarring, nor does it completely cover up just how muddled the story gets. Much of that has to do with the narrative flow, but it also has to do with the lack of characterization. The film waits until the second act to allow us to get acquainted with its central characters, and most of them are one-note. There’s a superficiality to it all that makes the core theme feel all the more ham-fisted.

Overall, Antebellum feels more in line with an episode of The Twilight Zone revival series’ inaugural season. Bush and Renz use blunt force to convey their film’s social messaging, and it’s at the expense of everything else. The set pieces, style, performances, and cinematography are there in spades; it’s just undermined by a script lacking in finesse, characterization, and narrative build. There’s no denying that the topic is an important one, but it’s been handled with much more precision in other films of its ilk. It’s also difficult to classify this as a genre film. Outside of the horrors endured by the characters, none of the ingredients are in place for a horror movie. There’s a strong vision in Antebellum, but it’s one that’ll frustrate horror fans expecting anything more than a bleak lesson in how our refusal to address the gruesome past can leave open wounds that fester in the present.

Antebellum releases on PVOD on September 18, 2020.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3629016/review-antebellum-gives-unflinching-heavy-handed-lesson-historys-horrors-embargoed-aug-31-12pm-et/

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