The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
Another cinematic casualty of 2020, thanks to the global pandemic, Antebellum was at one stage primed for a first-quarter theatrical release. Its time-warped-centric trailer and “From the producer of Get Out” earned plenty of interest from the horror crowds who were no doubt hoping this would follow suit on Jordan Peele’s twisted mentality. Whilst the producer on hand, Sean McKittrick, did indeed lend his talents to Peele’s Oscar-winning chiller, Antebellum by no means possesses the smarts nor the terror of the aforementioned work. This is a misleadingly marketed film that wants to act as if it has something deep to say about the state of racial issues in the world today but handles it in completely the wrong way.
Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz pull double duties as co-directors and writers, and whilst I can acknowledge what they are trying to do in suggesting that slavery never really dissipated, their choice to position slavery as America’s only original sin means they miss any thematic subtext that could organically come from such a conversation. Nothing about what they present here is subtle, with the early scenes of the antebellum South almost cartoonish in their depiction. It's brutal without question but it’s hammered into the audience too greatly, with the duo seemingly too fixated on the powerful imagery that can be conjured from their twist reveal in the narrative rather than taking care of the material they have.
The film initially sets itself up as a period drama based around a slave plantation in the antebellum South, focusing on the unwillingly obedient Eden (Janelle Monae). Rules are strict and cruel, but there’s an oddity to these surroundings that suggest not all is as it seems. When the second act arrives after a good 40 or so minutes, we’re transported to the modern day where famed author Victoria (also played by Monae), a doctor of sorts who specialises in black history, is heading out on a business trip to promote her latest work. The two acts feel completely opposite to each other before a slew of minute details bleed in suggesting they’re somehow connected, leading towards a plot twist that very much feels like the only ingredient the film hinges its whole personality on. It’s a reveal that wants to be shocking and clever but ultimately feels hollow and blasphemous; seriously, it’s M. Night Shyamalan-level lunacy.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Janelle Monae has proven herself to be a worthy screen talent, and Antebellum is no exception as she emerges as the film’s most valuable asset. Delivering a dedicated, natural performance in a film that doesn’t deserve her commitment, Antebellum proves only as watchable as it does thanks to her organic presence. Also holding their own are Gabourey Sibide, who has fun as one of Victoria’s mouthy, overly-confident friends, and Kiersey Clemons, garnering sympathy as a confused slave in the Eden storyline, though unfortunately the usually reliable Jena Malone overplays the passive aggressive, casually racist Southern belle-type and stands as one of the film’s sorest spots.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Communicates It In Entirely The Wrong Way...
The look and feel of the antebellum South is appropriately created, as are the unfortunate situations the various slaves find themselves in, but there’s an intentional embellishment to it that initially feels disingenuous before playing into the film’s twisted mentality.
Antebellum (2020) | IN CINEMAS
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The opening few minutes of silent imagery are accompanied by a haunting, dramatic score that sets the tone for the angry lunacy that follows. Whilst the film itself doesn’t always hit its mark, the aggrieved mood it wants to create is certainly achieved through its audible aesthetics.
Haunting visuals, a stellar lead performance, and a well-intentioned mentality in regards to America’s stance on racism, Antebellum could have had something truly important to say had it not ultimately settled on something too simplistic, hanging its shock value on a plot twist that cheapens its story entirely.