In recent years, there have been some truly astounding horrors that have used racial identity and the experience of being a person of colour in a white land as subtext for terrifying tales where the true monster is hatred. Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Remi Weekes’ His House spring to mind. Debut writer-directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz have tried their hands in this growing subgenre with Antebellum, a horror-mystery that attempts to build a fresh horror experience around slavery in Louisiana in the 1800s.
Unfortunately, Antebellum fails on almost every level to create a substantial film – without any particular scares, or indeed meaning, behind its harrowing imagery. The film is just an unpleasant watch. Of course, a film around slavery is supposed to be unpleasant, I get that. But it needs to have a point. The aforementioned Get Out and His House were all the more impactful for their allegorical content and strong subtext, while Antebellum hopes that just throwing a load of disturbing abuse and clunky timeline twists at the screen will create a cerebral horror experience with something to say. It doesn’t. What it creates is a cringe-inducing film that feels like a student project, right down to the excessive slow-mo and futile attempts at a stylish delivery.
The biggest disappointment here is the potential of what could have been. Merging horror with the era of slavery could be terrifyingly effective, and under the guidance of someone like Jordan Peele, would almost certainly be a film bursting with thought-provoking commentary. But as it stands, Antebellum is very much a swing and a miss.
Despite a solid lead performance from the incredible Janelle Monáe, Antebellum is an uncomfortable misfire that will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Often feeling like a misguided episode of Black Mirror, it is desperate to get by on its social relevance alone in the time of #BLM – but without any substance or depth, the film just feels awkward and uncomfortable.