When Lionsgate’s Antebellum was put out on PVOD in the US last year it developed a reputation as the potentially interesting kind of failure. An example of highly conceptual narratives that end up falling on their face. This viewer has a fascination with this style of media. The Book of Henry is still the most insane in recent memory. The film was a high priority whenever it turned up in the UK. Close to a year later it has been mopped up by Sky. It stars Janelle Monáe as an entrepreneur who when she falls asleep in the modern world gets trapped in a dream world as an Antebellum era slave. Depictions of horrific abuse are very much baked in given the narrative set up. The question is does the film fit the “interestingly bad” tag it has been given by US viewers?
Not really. Granted this critic is up for seeing a film that does have some interesting conceptual ideas faceplant On one level the narrative could simply be referred to as a more genre-focused take on something like 12 Years a Slave. This is accurate to a certain extent. Modern technology eventually starts introducing itself in the Antebellum sections. The whole thing resembles a very basic take on the TV incarnations of Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale. Once the park has been established as a simulation in the Westworld comparison should be obvious. That said Handmaids might be even more appropriate. Both use a certain amount of science fiction to establish a horrifically abusive system. Both have clear differentiation within the narrative. Plotlines for both what is going on for characters both within and outside the central dystopia of the narrative. At its best Westworld offers the viewer a hugely compelling mystery box filled with all sorts of compelling mythology. Handmaids isn’t afraid to showcase horrific abuse. However, across its first two seasons, it had superbly compelling characters and performances. Critically both have been renewed for 4th season coming off their weakest set of episodes thus far. This critic still needs to finish season three of Handmaids. Even those show’s at their worst are better than anything Antebellum has to offer The most charitable interpretation possible is that the film is showcasing concepts that have been refined and in some case perfected elsewhere. The filmmakers are also desperately trying to convince the audience they have at least seen one of Jordan Peele’s films. The whole thing comes across as massively try hard. It’s a potentially embarrassing failure for those involved.
Antebellum might be more interesting as an example of cinematic failure for those the limit the main consumption of media to just film That said as a critic who also covers a lot of TV the comparison to both Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale was immediate and obvious. Those shows have potentially hit their peak. Lacklustre recent seasons of both suggest they might have done) they still have a lot more to offer than this half baked feature effort.