Antebellum (2020): Bush and Renz’ Directing Debut, Horror Thriller

The horror-thriller Antebellum, written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz in their debuts, centers on an African-American woman, who finds herself in a Southern slave plantation from which she must escape.

The film stars Janelle Monáe, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, and Gabourey Sidibe.

In a Louisiana slave plantation run by Confederate soldiers, slaves are treated harshly–they’re not allowed to speak unless spoken to. Those who attempt to escape are killed and their bodies burned in a crematorium.

After a failed escape attempt, a black man named Eli watches as his wife is murdered and her body placed in the crematorium. A woman who had been assisting them is later brutally beaten and branded by the general until she submits to being called Eden.

A group of slaves is brought to the plantation. Among them is a pregnant woman whom the general’s daughter Elizabeth names Julia and places in the care of Eden. Julia asks Eden to plan an escape while Eden urges her to keep her head down. That evening during a dinner where Julia and Eden are forced to wait on soldiers in the army, a shy Confederate soldier named Daniel is attracted to Julia and arranges to go to her cabin later. When Julia tries to play on his kindness and asks him to help her, he beats her for speaking when not spoken to, causing her to miscarry.

After being raped by the general, Eden hears a ringing cell phone. In the modern era, a cell phone rings, awakening Eden, who is actually a renowned sociologist named Dr. Veronica Henley. She is preparing to take a trip to speak and promote her book, which is particularly hard for her because she has to leave her loving husband Nick and her daughter Kennedi. She has a bizarre online meeting with Elizabeth which leaves her uncomfortable, but she dismisses her feelings and cuts the meeting short.

While in Louisiana on her book tour, she meets her friends Dawn and Sarah and goes to dinner with them in a local restaurant.

In the meantime, Elizabeth sneaks into her hotel room and steals her lipstick. Intending to go back home early in the morning, Veronica leaves the restaurant in what she believes is a Uber ride but is actually a car driven by Elizabeth.

At the plantation, Veronica discovers that Julia has hanged herself. After being raped by the general the following evening, she sneaks out of her cabin and steals his phone. Before she can call for help, she is interrupted by an intoxicated Daniel and his friend.

Eli kills Daniel with a hatchet and retrieves the cellphone. As the phone can only be unlocked with facial recognition, Veronica goes back to the cabin to find the general and is surprised to find he is awake. The general attacks both and Eli is killed trying to protect Veronica. She stabs the general with his own bayonet and unlocks the phone, then uses GPS to send her location to her husband.

While planning to hide the general in the crematorium, she is interrupted by Jasper. Veronica lures him and another guard into the place, setting it on fire, leaving the men to burn to death.

Elizabeth reveals that she handpicked every slave on the plantation except for Veronica, whom she kidnapped at her father’s insistence. Veronica then knocks Elizabeth off her horse, thereby breaking her neck.

Veronica flees the pursuing soldiers, realizing that the plantation is actually part of a Civil War reenactment park called Antebellum, owned by Senator Blake Denton. Posing as general. Denton intended to use the park as a recreational space for a new kind of slavery using African victims.

Greeted with mixed theatrical response, Antebellum was released through premium video on demand on September 18, 2020, and theatrically in some countries.

 

Cast
Janelle Monáe as Veronica Henley/Eden
Eric Lange as Blake Denton/Him
Jena Malone as Elizabeth
Jack Huston as Jasper
Kiersey Clemons as Julia
Gabourey Sidibe as Dawn
Marque Richardson as Nick Henley
Tongayi Chirisa as Eli/Professor Tarasai
Robert Aramayo as Daniel
Lily Cowles as Sarah
London Boyce as Kennedi Henley
Arabella Landrum as Little Blonde Girl
Achok Majak as Ghianna Queen
T.C. Matherne as Purcell