There’s certainly a statement of intent for the feature directorial debut of Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. Antebellum is a powerful and disturbing story set within the historical slave trade in Southern plantations. Don’t read on if you want to go into the film without any spoilers.
Headstrong slave Eden (Janelle Monáe) is among the plantation workers in a Louisiana ranch. After aiding an attempted escape, she is branded and savagely beaten. The escapees get worse treatment, as the wife of one is killed and incinerated in a makeshift crematorium. The workers are ruled over harshly by Confederate soldiers, with beatings given out if they speak without being allowed to. This oppressive regime reveals some unbearable acts until Eden is awoken by a mobile phone ringing while she’s being horrifically raped by the army general.
As alluded to in that brief synopsis, there’s more going on in the narrative than is fair to disclose. From the opening shot - a stunning, single tracking shot - to the twisted reveals that arrive later on, the film has style. The appalling nature of the situation is never presented lightly and it’s clear Bush and Renz have the current political climate on their minds when they preface the movie with a quote from celebrated Southern author William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”. They don’t shy away from showing the brutality of the soldiers against the slaves, and it often descends worryingly into exploitation territory, which threatens to undermine the important message.
For all the cinematic splendour and neat twists, Antebellum is a difficult movie to actually enjoy. However, the points the filmmakers make and the emotions the scenario provokes are vital, particularly nowadays.
Antebellum is released on Blu-ray and DVD on August 2nd.