I had no baggage going into this, other than being a little pissed off that it never got a cinema release, despite the ‘coming soon’ poster being up for ages. And now Sky Cinema is trying to claim it as a “Sky Original” and making me use their shitty and expensive Now TV app to finally give it a watch, over a year after the title had been planted in my mind. I knew there was a racial component (from the producers of Get Out and Us gave me that), that it seemed to be marketed as horror, and that reception of the film generally ranged from disappointment to outright hostility. I didn’t watch a trailer, I didn’t look up ‘antebellum’ in a dictionary or encyclopedia beforehand … I didn’t even read the short promo blurb on the Now TV menu. I’d never even heard of Janelle Monae. 

TL;DR: I went into this blind.

And it was great. A great watch, anyway – not a cinematic Great with a capital G or anything. The only time Antebellum nearly put a foot on the wrong side of the credibility line, for me, was when that ringtone first chirped up, and my internal monologue nearly said ‘Oh, really? We’re doing this now?’ But my internal horror fan reminded me I was expecting something to be ‘off’ at some point, and to just STFU.

Piecing the story jigsaw together from then on wasn’t difficult, but it was tricksy enough that it made me re-evaluate my theories more than once. And when it was over I was left with a satisfying mash-up of 12 Years a Slave, Hostel and The Village. Every loose end tied, and all the potential blunders and hidden clues accounted for. Which was nice.

I can see why the subject matter might put people off. We’ve got yet another race-based, popcorn dissection of social ills, and the potentially frivolous treatment of a period of history that still stings like a motherfucker for Black Americans and whites alike. It’s a testament, I think, to the quality of the movie that the first third – which is essentially a period piece – was good enough as it was that I didn’t actually want the shift in tone and focus to more of a horror and/or thriller to happen at all. But when it did I was still firmly on board anyway. It may have been the script, the pace, and the performances that kept me on the hook. All were without fault. Janelle Monae puts in a great performance – so while I only know her as an actress, based on this I now know her as a talented one.

I can’t give you a Black or even an American perspective on Antebellum. Objectively, as a 90-minute mystery thriller, this is high quality. Subjectively, I was impressed and had a good time with it.

%d bloggers like this: