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Antebellum  (DVD)


Stars: Janelle Monae, Marque Richardson, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Eric Lange, Tongayi Chirisa, Gabourey Sidibe, Lily Cowles

Director: Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz

Here's one to be put in the file of the cinema's oddest films. We open on a slave plantation at the outset of the American Civil War in the early 1860s. Her parents murdered, Eden (Monae) is branded and possessed by a sadistic Confederate commander (Lange), while his aide (Huston) brutally keeps the cotton-picking slaves in line.

After further tragedy strikes, the film switches abruptly at the 40-minute mark to the present day, where Veronica (also Monae) is a wealthy professor, author and activist whose life seems perfect until she finds herself pestered and stalked by a 'southern belle' (Malone, exuding venom) who's the spit and image of the plantation owner's wife.

This fairly bland 30-minute segment, including the professor going on the town in an unlikely form-hugging mini-dress, ends when she's kidnapped by the belle and some co-conspirators. At this juncture, the film goes completely bonkers, as Veronica finds herself back on the 19th century plantation with her aggressive captors calling her Eden. Or does she?

It all makes absolutely no sense. If we're still in the 21st century, why are Veroinica's 'Confederate' jailers all the same people that were on the plantation? I think there's a statement here about black empowerment being here to stay, but it gets lost in the movie's general chaos and sheer unbelievability.

Still, Monae does her best work in the slave section (she's merely silly in the 21st century) and at least you can't accuse this lunatic farrago of not being entertaining.

David Quinlan

USA 2020. UK Distributor: LionsGate. Colour by FotoKem.
102 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 09 Aug 2021