ANTEBELLUM – Review by Susan Granger

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If you’re into bizarre, off-beat films, consider this Prime Video ‘historic horror.’

It begins with a slave, Eden (Janelle Monae), enduring agonizing brutality on a Southern plantation sometime during the Civil War. She’d love to escape but…then there’s a time-travel element.

Suddenly, Eden becomes Veronica Henley, a contemporary black woman, who recalls that her grandmother once told her: “Our ancestors haunt our dreams,” followed by an allusion to a William Faulkner quote: “Our past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

While outspoken, social activist Veronica is promoting her new, 21st century book aimed at Black women, encouraging them to make their voices heard and to harness their inherent power, Eden is forced to perform hard labor and endure sexual assault.

Confusing? Yes – but – at the same time – intriguing.

The only other character to ‘appear’ in both time frames is sneering Elizabeth (Jena Malone), who remains overtly racist and condescending throughout the concept, emphasizing the filmmakers’ assertion about apartheid, calling it “the original sin of America.”

In Eden’s life, there’s her slave friend Eli (Tongay Chirisa) and newly arrived Julia (Kiersey Clemons), who want to escape with her, but they’re continually thwarted by the barbaric plantation owner (Eric Lange) and sadistic overseer (Jack Huston), plus the marauding Confederate soldiers.

In Veronica’s Washington D.C.-based life, there’s her ebullient best-friend/confidante Dawn (Gabourey Sidibe), a relationship counselor who exudes some comic relief – plus Veronica’s husband (Marque Richardson) and young daughter (London Boyce).

Filmmakers Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz – making their writing/directing debut – drop a few foreboding hints (like having the cotton that the slaves picked burned up at the end of the day), but it all leads up to a clumsy third-act twist, a conspiracy contrivance that’s reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to discuss this basic premise without spoiling it.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Antebellum” is a strange, shallow 6, an allegorical social thriller.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.