The Reel Review


Janelle Monae stars in this thriller that at first appears to be about a slave trying to escape from a strange, surreal Civil War-era Confederate plantation where things oddly just don’t quite add up. Gradually, the story reveals itself as something even more timely and disturbing, and just as sinister.

Janelle Monáe and Tongayi Chirisa in Antebellum.

The writing/directing duo of Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, in their feature film debut, swing for the fences as they lay out for viewers an intentionally confusing story about systemic racism, past and present. A series of flashbacks gradually piece together the mystery of what is actually going on. But their attempt to make a clever, twisty story on par with 2017’s Get Out ends up feeling more like the clumsy and confusing 2019 horror/thriller Us. The scenes with Gabourey Sidibe and her aggressively unlikable character are particularly bizarre and distract from its message.

Tongayi Chirisa in Antebellum.

The charismatic Monáe (Moonlight, Hidden Figures) is entertaining to watch, despite being saddled with a silly, manipulative story that, whether intended or not, vaccilates from a shallow, one note trope about the horrors of slavery to a shallow, one note trope about a superficial life of privilege amidst modern day racist micro aggressions. The final reveal is less provocative than it is reminiscent of a 2004 M. Night Shymalan film that evoked a similar, infuriating reaction among viewers who immediately felt tricked over its big reveal. At least in Antebellum there is a satisfying, albeit rushed revenge element.


Antebellum writer/directors Christopher Renz and Gerard Bush

Writer/directors and life partners Christopher Renz and Gerard Bush worked as advertising execs and political activists before writing and directing Antebellum, which is based on a nightmare Bush had in 2017.

Antebellum is Janelle Monáe’s first leading role in a feature film.

• The Get Out and Us producer that Antebellum touted in its marketing campaign is Sean McKittrick, and not Jordan Peele, the director of those prior two films who had no involvement in Antebellum. 

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