Directors: Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz
Cast: Janelle Monáe, Eric Lange, Jena Malone
Release Date: November 3, 2020
A Review By: Kevin Lovell
Film Rating: 4.5/10
Disc Rating: 8.5/10
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.
‘Antebellum’ tells the unsettling story of Veronica (Monáe), a successful author who finds herself caught between two worlds. In one she’s happily married with a loving family and currently wrapping up a press tour promoting her latest work as well as celebrating with friends, and in the other she finds herself forced to serve as a slave, working on a plantation and doing the bidding of the uncaring soldiers who run things, including a higher up who has taken an unnerving notice of her. But which is truly her reality and is it within her power to choose?
Written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz who make their feature length directorial debut with ‘Antebellum’ and the duo does a decent job at the helm in many ways, beautifully capturing the surroundings and utilizing bright, richly colored environments that perfectly contrast the unsettling subject matter, but the sloppy script and many curious and illogical decisions cause plenty of hiccups along the way. The film’s cast which features some talented individuals certainly helps, including Janelle Monáe (Harriet), Eric Lange (TV’s Perry Mason 2020), Jena Malone (The Neon Demon), Jack Huston (TV’s Fargo), Kiersey Clemons (TV’s Transparent), Gabourey Sidibe (TV’s Empire) and more, with the majority offering solid performances for the most part in each of their respective roles, especially Monáe who provides a notable performance in the lead and is also by far one of the film’s biggest strengths.
‘Antebellum’ hints at great promise from the onset, quickly throwing the viewer into a painful story of slaves struggling to survive on a plantation and then attempting to confuse us with its strange and unexplained shift in time and locale. Although this is sadly also the element that begins to cause its downfall as it struggles to go out of its way to attempt unnecessary confusion as opposed to playing things straight which would have likely worked far better for the sake of the story and the powerful message it’s trying to deliver. Yet by taking what would work much smoother without all of the confusion and baffling attempts at misdirection and trying to turn it into a curious mystery, it causes the tale to lose focus on what’s important, clearing showing that the filmmakers are far more interested in toying with and confusing the viewers while using the slavery aspect in an exploitative way to benefit their mind games instead of crafting what could have been a far more powerful and unsettling look at something horrifying (even if the concept itself which I won’t directly dive into also leaves plenty of plot holes and glaring questions). The film definitely has its strengths, such as the impressive performance by Janelle Monáe who never falters in her emotional performance, as well as some gorgeous landscapes and settings for much of the story to play out amid. Unfortunately, none of it is quite enough to rectify the other glaring problems with the film which it finds itself repeatedly drowning in.
Overall, ‘Antebellum’ hints at real promise but quickly loses its way, taking on a powerful subject that if handled properly could have been something unforgettable. Sadly, instead of approaching the story more logically and without an unnecessary attempt to turn the story into a mystery by trying to confuse the audience, it becomes a disappointing attempt at a horror mystery without any logical mystery at its core to actually solve. A powerful performance by Monáe and many gorgeous and nicely contrasting settings and landscapes help it along, but the odd choices made for no apparent reason other than to needlessly misdirect results in the powerful elements at the story’s core being largely neglected or pushed aside in favor of a desperate need to make it far more confusing than necessary. Those looking forward to ‘Antebellum’ will probably still want to give it a chance in order to decide for yourself, although I would strongly consider renting it before making a blind purchase.
The Blu-ray release of ‘Antebellum’ features a full 1080p High Definition presentation with the film’s original 2.39:1 Cinemascope Aspect Ratio. The video presentation looks fantastic as a whole and provides a clean, sharp and nicely detailed presentation from start to finish, often rich with brightly colored landscapes and surroundings. It holds up nicely even during the numerous darkly lit sequences, never causing anything occurring onscreen to become negatively affected or rendered indiscernible. Overall, this is a wonderful high definition video presentation that holds up without issue every step of the way and never disappoints.
The Blu-ray release features a Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 channel compatible) soundtrack. Please note that this review pertains solely to the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio presentation. This multichannel soundtrack offers a crisp, clean and often quite aggressive audio presentation throughout. It repeatedly takes advantage of all seven available channels at every fitting opportunity in order to send music, animal and vehicle effects, along with bits of dialogue, nature content and more making its way throughout the various speakers quite regularly, and never resulting in any dialogue or other audio elements that may be occurring simultaneously to become distorted or rendered inaudible along the way. Overall, this is a great Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 capable) soundtrack that delivers admirably in every way required of it, while also contributing some additional tension and excitement to the viewing experience at times.
The Blu-ray release of ‘Antebellum’ features some noteworthy extras that take us deeper into bringing the film to life. Included on the release is a 2-part Behind the Scenes Documentary ‘The History in Front of Us: Deconstructing Antebellum’ (running approximately 67 minutes in length) which includes interviews/comments with the cast and crew, plus behind the scenes footage and more. We’re also treated to a handful of ‘Deleted Scenes’ from the movie (running approximately 8 minutes altogether), along with a couple of brief Behind the Scenes Featurettes: ‘A Hint of Horror: The Clues of Antebellum’ (running approximately 6 minutes) and ‘Opening Antebellum’ (approximately 5 minutes). ‘2 Theatrical Trailers’ (approximately 3 minutes combined) for the film are also included.
*Please note that the above images are taken from the Blu-Ray and resized. They will additionally suffer quality loss as a result of .jpg compression. Larger versions of each image can be viewed by clicking on the image. All images and content included on this Blu-Ray release are the property of their respective owners.
Film Rating: 4.5/10
Disc Rating: 8.5/10
‘Antebellum’ Will Be Available to Own on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital November 3, 2020 from Lionsgate Home Entertainment
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