The more time I sit after seeing Lionsgate Films' latest “Antebellum," the more frustrated I admittedly become. The story follows a successful author Veronica Henley (Janelle Monáe) as she becomes trapped in a world from the past that she must escape from. That’s a very vague sounding premise because the film's most interesting idea would ruin the experience. While the film is being sold as a horror movie, after seeing it I can safely say that is not the case. The frustrating detail about this movie isn’t the idea, but how directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz execute it. That fault is in no way given to our lead performance by Monáe.
Ever since her breakout turn in “Hidden Figures," Monáe has been a star who’s always delivered a solid performance. In a film like this, where some more “horrific” (I say this in quotes for a reason) and jarring moments happen, she sells it. There is an instant likeability to her, with a vulnerability that makes her easy to sympathize with. Late in the film's second act, there is one moment that is so incredibly tense that solely comes from her performance. The point here is that even in the more ludicrous moments, she is so incredibly convincing as a woman stuck in a bad circumstance. Besides Monáe, the films supporting players easily stand as the films highlight.
With a supporting cast including an array of character actors such as Keirsey Clemmons, Gabourey Sidibe, Jack Houston and Jena Malone, it’s never dull. The problem is most of this cast is entirely wasted. I won’t spoil what Malone and Houston’s roles are, but I will just say that they're stuck playing a type. It severely wastes two of the best up and coming actors working today. Sidibe as one of Monáe’s friends gets a few laughs in, but that’s about all the writing gives her. The stand out in this bunch would have to be Keirsey Clemmons as someone Veronica meets in her captivity. Her moments in the film are the most emotional and impactful scenes the film has to offer. The real blame that I really must cast here is that of the directors Christopher Renz and Gerard Bush.
Conceptually, the idea of being trapped in reality as horrifying as the film presents, could’ve been incredibly effective. The problem here is that once the reveal of this mystery occurs, it left me with more questions than answers. With both men also being primary scriptwriters, you can certainly tell what their intentions are. They want to bring to light the horrors of the world today and how it easily equates to the world tomorrow. However, this idea is nowhere near fleshed out enough. Following a puzzle box-like structure, the twists and turns of the film lead to a resolution that falls flat. When I say that, I certainly don’t mean that it falls in a bad way, it’s just a bland one.
“Antebellum” is the definition of a mixed back in terms of what type of film it wants to be. There are moments that want to tackle big ideas and others that want to go for cheap genre thrills. The unfortunate thing is that the film cannot decide which side of the line that it wants to fall. Anything “horrific” in the modern-day portion falls flat, while sequences set in the past are tense but not scary in the way that is expected. This unfortunate flaw makes me all the more frustrated since the lead performance is as strong as it is. Like many of the films I have been reviewing, this one was originally set for theaters. Thanks to Covid-19, this film is on-demand for a $20 rental. With being viewed at home, “Antebellum” comes off as nothing more than forgettable.