The “Get Out” formula isn’t as easy as it looks.
Jordan Peele’s instant classic fused bigotry, horror and social awareness in a way that brought everyone to the table. An excellent movie will do that, no matter the positions it takes.
“Antebellum” does nothing of the kind.
The thriller uses a slavery story line to ask if the “peculiar institution” ever really went away. It’s a nauseating conceit given modern progress, but one still worthy of exploration via the horror genre. ‘
Add strong characters, ripe tension and dramatic payoffs and we’ll listen to anything. “Antebellum” comes up empty over and again, committing the biggest sin of all when it comes to socially aware cinema.
It’s hopelessly dull.
Janelle Monae stars as Veronica Henley, a successful black author who preaches Intersectionality 101. We know this thanks to the film’s heavy-handed screenplay, which floods the cinematic zone with woke talking points from start to finish.
And yes, we see tiki torches mid-movie along with talk of “blood and soil.” You half expect the end credits to pull a Spike Lee and take President Donald Trump out of context, again, with the “Charlottesville Lie.”
First-time filmmakers Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz begin “Antebellum” in a heavy-handed fashion — a slavery sequence that imagines we’ve never seen these ghastly images before. Enough with the slow-motion, thanks.
From there we meet Monae’s other character, an enslaved black woman named Eden. She wants nothing more than to band together with her fellow slaves and escape, but the timing has to be just right.
What do Eden and Veronica have in common, beyond Monae’s palpable screen presence?
Bush and Renz start their filmmaking career with a visual bang. “Antebellum” is alternately gorgeous and frightening, all in the proper measures. Cameras swoop through the plantation with purpose, and several images are quickly indelible.
The film’s score is equally strong, if only it had a better film to accompany it. The chilling refrain heard in the trailer jolts our expectations, leaving only a slow, exasperating letdown.
Monae is a fine actress, one capable of rising to the occasion. Instead, the screenplay gets bogged down in “you go, girl” distractions, obnoxious supporting players and virtue signaling.
Gabourey Sidibe, terrific in the recent, under-valued “Come As You Are,” deserves so much better than playing an “empowerment” cliche on steroids.
“Antebellum” teases that a version of slavery exists in our modern age. How? Well the uber-rich Veronica gets snubbed by a hotel clerk, which is clearly because she’s black and no other explanation can be considered. She’s also complimented by a tone deaf white woman (Jena Malone) about how her lipstick shade accentuates her skin color.
Meanwhile, Veronica lives in a home more opulent than most Americans can afford, lands a swanky suite for her latest work assignment and has enough cash left over to hire a private yoga instructor. She also has a doting husband and an adorable daughter.
The horror, the horror.
FAST FACT: Janelle Monae got an early career break when rapper Big Boi invited her to appear on a number of OutKast songs.
The film comes alive, briefly, when the directors let the Big Secret out of the bag earlier than expected. It sparks again when Eden seeks vengeance against her enslavers. Those grindhouse pleasures prove fleeting and, even worse, dumb even by horror movie standards.
That’s hardly empowering.
HiT or Miss: “Antebellum” takes a firecracker premise and douses with buckets of woke posturing until the creative spark dies out.