Official promotional poster
|Edited by||John Axelrad|
|Box office||$4.8 million|
Antebellum is a 2020 American horror film written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz in their feature directorial debuts. The film stars Janelle Monáe, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, and Gabourey Sidibe, and follows a modern-day African-American woman who must escape from a 19th-century Southern slave plantation.
Antebellum was released in the United States through video on demand on September 18, 2020, and theatrically in several overseas countries. The film received mixed reviews from critics, who felt it did not live up to the premise's full potential.
In the midst of the American Civil War, a Louisiana plantation is being run by the Confederate States Army. Slaves are treated harshly and not allowed to speak without permission. Those who attempt to escape are killed and their bodies burned in a crematorium.
A group of new slaves are brought to the plantation. Among them is a pregnant woman whom the plantation owner, Elizabeth, names Julia and places in the care of another slave, Eden, the unwilling captive and rape victim of a Confederate general referred to only as "Him". Julia asks Eden to plan an escape; having already been branded for an earlier failed escape attempt, Eden urges her to keep her head down. That evening, a shy Confederate soldier named Daniel beats Julia when she speaks to him without permission, causing her to miscarry. Eden later discovers her lifeless body hanging from her cabin's rafters.
After being raped by the general, Eden falls asleep. She awakens in the present day, as Veronica Henley, a renowned sociologist, which is actually several weeks ago and is the backstory to her abduction. She is preparing to take a trip to speak at a seminar and promote her book, which is particularly hard for her because she has to leave her loving husband, Nick, and her daughter, Kennedi. While in Louisiana on her promotional tour, she meets her friends and agrees to go to dinner with them. Elizabeth, posing as a representative of a private company, sneaks into her hotel room and steals her lipstick. Veronica leaves dinner in what she believes is her Uber ride but Elizabeth surprises her and has her husband Jasper knock her out.
Veronica wakes up and tells her fellow captive Eli, whose wife had been killed during their previous failed attempt, that they will once again try to escape. She steals the general's phone while he is asleep but drops it when Daniel walks by. Eli kills Daniel with a hatchet. As the phone can only be unlocked with facial recognition, Veronica goes back to the cabin to find that the general is awake; Eli is killed trying to protect her and she manages to stab the general with his own sword before unlocking the phone and sending her location to her husband. As she hides the general in the crematorium, Jasper runs into her. Veronica lures him and another guard into the crematorium and sets fire to it, leaving the three men to burn to death as she steals the general's horse and rides off.
Elizabeth pursues her on horseback and reveals that she handpicked every slave on the plantation except for Veronica, whom she kidnapped at her father's insistence. Veronica knocks Elizabeth off her horse and puts a rope around her neck, dragging her along until she hits a statue of Robert E. Lee, breaking her neck. Veronica flees the pursuing soldiers into the chaos of a battle, revealing that the plantation is actually part of a Civil War reenactment park owned by the general under his real name of Senator Blake Denton. Veronica escapes as the police arrive to liberate her and the other captives. The park is shut down afterwards.
In March 2019, it was announced Janelle Monáe had joined the cast of the film, with Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz directing from a screenplay they wrote. Ray Mansfield and Sean McKittrick will serve as producers on the film under their QC Entertainment banner, while Lionsgate will distribute. In April 2019, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, Tongayi Chirisa, Gabourey Sidibe, Robert Aramayo and Lily Cowles joined the cast of the film. In May 2019, Marque Richardson joined the cast of the film.
Antebellum was released through video on demand in the United States on September 18, 2020, while still playing in theaters in select countries. This includes a theatrical release in Australia on October 1, 2020. The film was originally scheduled to be released on April 24, 2020, but was delayed to August 21, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, before being pulled off the release schedule temporarily in July 2020.
In its debut weekend, Antebellum was the number one most rented title across film and television on Amazon Prime Video, and number one rented film on FandangoNow and Apple TV, and third on Google Play. IndieWire estimated that if about 500,000 homes rented the film, it would result in $8 million for the studio. In its second weekend the film topped the FandangoNow and Spectrum film charts, while finishing second at Google Play and sixth at Apple TV, and remained in the top three across most platforms in its third weekend.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 28% based on 145 reviews, with an average rating of 4.74/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Antebellum fails to connect its images with any meaning, making for a largely unpleasant experience lacking any substantial scares." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 45 out of 100, based on 35 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews."
Peter Debruge from Variety called it "A mind blowing thriller" and Stephanie Zacharek from Time writing "Even if we didn't live in a country where a shockingly large fraction of people think Confederate monuments are A-O.K., Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz's Antebellum would resonate like the boom of a Union Army cannon".  David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film a "C+" and wrote, "An artful and provocative movie about the enduring horror of America's original sin, Antebellum can't follow through on its own concept." Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Jourdain Searles said the film was "more interested in making a point than digging deep" and "In the end, Antebellum is undone by a lack of empathy and emotion. It has no real perspective on the past and thus fails to make any real impact on the present."
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