Friday, October 2, 2020

ANTEBELLUM (2020) Movie Review

Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 1
Total First Time Views: 1
Amount raised for BOXVILLE: $63.50

Antebellum (2020) d. Gerard Bush / Christopher Renz (USA) (106 min) (1st viewing) 

Addressing racism and especially the Black experience of slavery on film is an undoubtedly a sensitive task, especially within a horror film where realistic scenes of rape, torture, murder, and intimidation can easily be perceived as gratuitous. In the same way that the rape/revenge subgenre is predicated on the fact that we must first watch a woman being violated against her will in order to “enjoy” watching her mete out justice to those who wronged her, these scenes of unrelenting violence against people of color achieve their desired effect, such that shocked viewers’ sympathies inherently align with the onscreen oppressed.

However, in the same way that there is no denying that women have been and continue to be sexually assaulted in real life, these atrocities were, in fact, committed against Black individuals and continue to be committed today, albeit in (slightly) subtler fashion. It’s also true that there are those in our current social culture who would not mind seeing them return to their former state, i.e. “Making America Great Again.”

This is the horror that the writing/directing team of Bush + Renz confront us with, in direct and indirect fashion, and while their approach is not subtle in the slightest and their nonlinear script not as clever as they might think it is, there’s no denying the raw sledgehammer power of the images and the duo’s assured creative vision.

I’m in a quandary whether to discuss the plot in any detail, being that a good deal of the suspense relies on a certain plot point that occurs about 30-40 minutes into the narrative. As anyone who has seen the theatrical trailer knows, there are scenes set on a Civil War-era plantation, presumably somewhere in the Deep South, and there are those set in the modern day. Janelle Monáe appears in both time frames: In the former, she is “Eden,” a house slave beholding to a high-ranking Confederate official known only as “Him” (Eric Lange); in the latter, she is “Veronica,” a successful author and scholar of American history, happily married with a cute daughter, private yoga instructor, and sycophants lying in wait around every corner. In both scenarios, she experiences examples of racism, and the deeply interwoven plotlines mirror and comment on one another for reasons that become explicit around the one-hour mark.

Antebellum is not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, offering only the bluntest of social commentary, light-years from Jordan Peele’s sly and thoughtful Get Out. That said, its “What If” premise is a truly horrifying one, and Bush + Renz exploit it to its fullest. Obviously, I can only view the scenario presented here through my own lens, that of a 21st century 50-year-old lower/middle class white man, but I imagine it perfectly distills what many modern-day Black people’s worst nightmare would be.

Do we need to see these agonies rendered against minorities in such graphic fashion? I don’t know. Maybe we do. Is it unfair that there are no sympathetic white characters represented, where even Veronica’s best Caucasian friend (Lily Cowles) comes off as cluelessly privileged? Maybe, but maybe that is also the point. The worlds in which Eden and Veronica find themselves are not peopled with allies and, once again, this is the horror presented.

From its impressive unbroken tracking shot presenting the “idyllic” vision of plantation life to its vibrant use of color and shadow, Antebellum’s superb technical elements lend the proceedings a perhaps undeserved air of authority and intellectualism. I suspect it is this that has so put off many of my colleagues, who accuse it of myriad missteps even as they commit the sin of reviewing the movie they wish it had been instead of the one it is.

Because the one it is more than serves the turn. It delivers shock and dread in equal measure, with several memorable sequences and an outstanding central turn from Monáe. It sets up a horrifying premise and proceeds to deliver on it, while prompting discussion down the (figurative) aisles and out into the (figurative) parking lots. (Ah, Covid, the havoc you wreak upon my time-honored movie-reviewing cliches.)

You wanted a Black Horror Film? Here it is.

Now, deal with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment