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SYFY WIRE reviews

Antebellum: Critics are split over the timely (and time-twisting) horror film as it skips theaters for VOD

By Josh Weiss
Janelle Monae Antebellum

After being delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Lionsgate's twisty Antebellum will now arrive on VOD Friday, Sep. 18. This could be seen as a blessing in disguise, because the project (marking the feature debut of Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz) is more relevant than ever in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place all over the world these last few months.

Reviews for the time-bending thriller are now coming online, and critics are polarized, to say the least. No one can deny that the movie's depiction and exploration of slavery in the pre-Civil War South (and racism in modern day) is haunting, timely, and brutally hard to watch. However, reviewers are split over the moral takeaway and what some are describing as a borderline slap in the face to historical accuracy.

Also written by Bush and Renz, Antebellum sees Janelle Monáe pulling double duty as a successful business author who is somehow transported back in time to work as a slave (named Eden) on a cotton plantation. The Hidden Figures actress is the obvious standout, with USA Today's Brian Truitt writing: "She gets the spotlight and is game for the fright-fest challenge of exploring real nightmares historically faced by Blacks in this country rather than the fantastical."

Several articles have compared the film to Jordan Peele's Get Out, which is well known for using the horror genre to probe the sensitive topic of race relations in the United States. In fact, the flick was produced by QC Entertainment, which also produced Peele's directorial debut.

Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, and Gabourey Sidibe co-star.

See what critics are saying below...

"While Antebellum is no zombie movie, it treats systemic racism as a kind of contagion that refuses to die, eating the brains of successive generations. There’s only one way to stop it, and that’s by blowing the minds of all those infected — which is precisely the power Antebellum musters." -Peter Debruge, Variety

"Instead of just making reference to slavery, Bush and Renz have constructed a film that appears to take place in that painful past and our present simultaneously. Too bad the result is shallow, more interested in making a Big Point than digging meaningfully into its subject." -Jourdain Searles, The Hollywood Reporter

"Monáe, luminous, hardly needs to work to hold the camera: A gifted polymath who has managed to maintain a high-profile music career while making indelible turns in films like Moonlight and Hidden Figures, the star works valiantly to channel Eden/Veronica's pain and confusion, and the whole humanity of a life her captors so casually dismiss. As a performer, she commits utterly; if only the story could do the same." -Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

"Most every character not played by Monae is fairly one-dimensional, and her personas both face physical struggles and fights for their identity. How they connect is the film's big twist, though Antebellum picks up like a charging horse in its wake and Monae, in cathartic fashion, becomes a rousing action heroine." -Brian Truitt, USA Today

"The last 30 minutes are meant to collapse time onto itself, but they unspool in a way that feels detached from everything that came before it; silly and bombastic and to the disservice of some good ideas. Antebellum is spliced together in a way that runs counter to its message — it cordons off America’s bloody past into its own designated zone, and sometimes reaches its claws into the present in order to snag new prey and drag it back to its den for dinner." -David Ehrlich, IndieWire

"While the trailer teases the idea that Veronica is a successful Black woman yanked backward in time to a plantation by scheming white sorcerers, the twist explaining how she awakens in antebellum America isn’t nearly so interesting. Instead, the reveal turns the film’s entire conceit into a disrespectful, cruel mockery of the history it’s exploiting." -Robert Daniels, Polygon

"There’s no deeper commentary to discuss nor bigger message about society wrapped up in this story. And, anyone who pays a minutiae of attention in the film can easily ascertain the 'when.' The 'why' and 'how' is what will keep them hanging on for threads. The film never addresses those questions. And, without a solid story foundation for its general concept, Antebellum leaves one massive question at the end: 'What did I just watch?'" -Tai Gooden, Nerdist

"Bush and Renz’s direction is loaded with style, and imagery that one might even dare call iconic – Monáe carrying a torch while standing in front of a huge, full moon; Monáe galloping on a horse in slow motion. And all of that is cloaked in an abundance of very real horrors that are not for the squeamish. And yet … Antebellum feels curiously unfinished." -Chris Evangelista, /FILM