To make a point about the evils of white supremacy, the film subjects its Black characters to unceasing brutality.
This story contains spoilers for the film Antebellum.
Antebellum is the kind of film that requires true storytelling daring to pull off. A horror movie that blurs history, fantasy, and darkest nightmare, it would only work with the cleverest calibration, striking a balance between thrills and social commentary that recalls the films of Jordan Peele or the best episodes of Black Mirror. But Antebellum, the feature-length directorial debut of Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, is a cinematic perversion of the genre.
The film’s arresting premise was laid out in its stark, effective advertising: What if a modern-day Black American woke up one morning to find herself on a Civil War–era slave plantation? That’s what happens to Eden (played by Janelle Monáe), though the movie opens on her life in captivity and takes a while to reveal its contemporary twist. Antebellum evokes Octavia Butler’s chilling 1979 masterpiece, Kindred, in which an African American woman is mysteriously transported back in time and experiences the deep suffering of her enslaved ancestors. But that novel didn't relish the brutality that its protagonist experienced, and it offered profound insights into power, memory, and the psychology of enslavement. Antebellum isn’t worthy of the comparison. It loads up on visceral scares and disturbing imagery in service of a shallow film that feels like a gory theme-park ride showcasing the horrors of slavery.