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Movie Review: “Antebellum”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Antebellum

Premium Home Video Release: 9/18/2020

Premium Home Video Release: 9/18/2020

Synopsis

Eden (Janelle Monae) is a slave on a cotton plantation. She spends her days picking cotton and performing various household duties for the man who runs the plantation. This man (Eric Lange) has a very strict set of rules for his slaves. One such rule is that they are not allowed to speak to each other, and can only speak when spoken to. Cruel punishment, perhaps even death, awaits any slave that breaks the rules, and this is something most of the slaves have been forced to witness on more than one occasion.

However, Eden starts to recall her life before being taken. She knows the plantation is a horrible place, but knowing where she was taken from, and what is waiting for her should she escape, Eden knows she has to get out. She begins hatching her plan, but knows executing it will be no easy task. She needs to wait for the right moment, but after another slave meets a cruel end, Eden knows she has to get out soon and call for help.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

The Mystery (+6pts)

The Marketing & Non-Chronological (-6pts)

Antebellum (+8pts)

The Beginning & Veronica’s Friends (-6pts)

Janelle Monae (+5pts)

The Antagonists & The Ending (-4pts)

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Pro: The Mystery (+6pts)

This was the sort of movie that was long and it was slow, but it kept me thinking. It kept me guessing as to what was going on behind-the-scenes at this plantation, and it kept me guessing what the twist of the movie would be, as I knew one was coming. I also give a lot of credit to the soundtrack of the movie, as a lot of slow, uneventful scenes still felt intense and mysterious due to the music in the background. I thought the trailer for this movie was misleading—I will get into that later—as this movie was not a horror movie at all, and was instead a very dramatic and mysterious thriller. It was not a scary movie, by any stretch of the imagination, but I wanted to see what was going on at this plantation. I also wanted to see Eden get to the bottom of it, I wanted to see her escape, and I wanted to see what the twist would end up being, even though i knew one was coming. Say what you want about this movie and your expectations of it, but the filmmakers did a good job of making this a mystery that audiences would want to see the main character get to the bottom of.

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Con: The Marketing & Non-Chronological (-6pts)

I do not normally fault a movie for its marketing, but this movie's marketing really dropped the ball, and it almost ruined the movie. The trailers gave potential viewers the impression that this was going to be a Get Out or Us styled horror movie, and it absolutely was not. This movie was very simply not a horror movie, and I thought that suggesting this was a horror movie did a disservice to the movie, because it set certain expectations, expectations that the movie could not fulfill. This was a drama, a mystery, and a thriller, but there was nothing resembling horror in this movie at all.

Then there was the way in which the filmmakers told the story. The filmmakers wanted a twist, but this was not the type of movie that had a twist naturally. It was the sort of movie where the filmmakers start you in the middle of the story, then randomly flashed back to what took place earlier. However, the main character did not have any memory loss, so all of the information that the main character had at the start of the movie was kept from the audience, simply to make things more mysterious—which I think is lazy writing. It was the type of movie where the filmmakers kept things from the audience for as long as possible, then they delivered the twist as if it was clever filmmaking. By trying so hard to force a plot twist into this movie, I thought the filmmakers ruined the impact that this story would have had if they had told the story chronologically.

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Pro: Antebellum (+8pts)

While I thought the non-chronological way that the filmmakers told the story served no purpose other than to force a plot twist where there would not have been one naturally, I thought the Antebellum itself made up for this issue to an extent. The people who worked at the Antebellum were so despicable and cruel, that it kept me invested in the story. I wanted to see Eden get away from these horrible people immediately, but it very quickly turned into me wanting to see her get revenge on her way out. As horrible as the people working at the Antebellum were, they were effective antagonists. They were one-dimensional, but that one-dimension was enough to make me hate them so much that I wanted to see Eden overcome them.

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Con: The Beginning & Veronica’s Friends (-6pts)

This sort of went hand-in-hand with the non-chronological issue, but I thought the filmmakers really screwed up with how they decided to tell this story. Because they wanted to force a plot twist into this movie, and because they did not want to pull the trigger on revealing that plot twist too early, the beginning section of this movie was dragged out a lot longer than it needed to be, which made the movie feel pretty slow. The filmmakers also should have given more focus to developing the story between Veronica, her husband, and her daughter daughter, which would have made me a lot more invested in seeing the Antebellum storyline resolved. Instead, we got a bunch of screentime watching Veronica interacting with her friends, and none of it contributed anything to the story. A minor rewrite would have allowed the friends to be taken out of the movie all together, and doing so would have given more time to develop more relevant characters to the story.

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Pro: Janelle Monae (+5pts)

Was Janelle Monae enough to make up for all of this movie’s problems? No, but her character went through a lot in this movie. She had lost everything, and she was in a horrible situation, where she was oppressed and abused almost 24/7. She was a character that had to endure a lot of suffering, and Janelle Monae did a great job of bringing this to the screen. She was captivating in her character’s dramatic moments, and I could feel the pain within her when she had to endure something horrific. She was also believable in the flashback sequence, and she naturally and believably brought her character’s compassion and resilience to the screen when those things were necessary for the story. While she was not enough to save this movie from all of its problems, she was great in the role of this movie’s lead.

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Con: The Antagonists & The Ending (-4pts)

While I thought the antagonists were mostly effective, even though they were one-dimensional, there were a couple that I thought needed more development. These were the two that led the Antebellum, Him (Eric Lange) and Elizabeth (Jena Malone). One was the clear leader, but we did not get any more development on him than we got on the much lower level antagonists. Then there was Elizabeth, who got this long, generic antagonist monologue, but we got no development for her character to make me care about that monologue at all. Finally, the ending to these characters’ stories were not as satisfying as I thought they should have been—based on the horrible things they had done earlier in the movie—which made the ending feel somewhat anti-climactic.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: C+ (78pts)

Antebellum had the kind of impactful story that was easily able to get me invested in it. I wanted to see Eden overcome the impossible, disgusting situation she was in, and I liked the mystery surrounding the Antebellum. Additionally, the despicable characters that ran the place were the type of antagonists that you will want to see meet brutal deaths. The movie also had a great lead actress with Janelle Monae. She was able to play the dramatic, traumatic, and resilient sides of the character's story, as well as the light-hearted, confident, and optimistic sides of the character's story, and she was able to do all of this seamlessly.

The marketing of this movie would lead you to believe that this was a horror movie, which drastically skewed expectations, and will only result in disappointing the viewers that it manages to pull in. The marketing campaign did a disservice to the movie, but the filmmakers still dropped the ball with bringing the story to the screen. They decided to tell the story in a non-chronological way, in order to force a plot twist into the story where there did not need to be one. It made it so that the beginning was unnecessarily drawn out. The filmmakers then decided to focus on irrelevant side characters instead of focusing on ones that would have had a greater impact on the story. There was a really great premise here and the story was pretty interesting and engaging despite the movie's issues, but I thought the movie would have been a lot better if the filmmakers did not try to make it something that it was not.