No Jury Would Convict Her

Although drawing on fiercely historical themes, Antebellum is a movie for 2020. It’s hyper-critical, harshly judgmental, and absolutely pure.

There is a central mystery, one of those “best go in blind” situations to obscure how Antebellum converges two timelines, one in the deep south’s plantation era, the other modern living as the story follows decorated writer Veronica (Janelle Monae). There’s not an accidental parallel between them. When checking in with a concierge, the woman behind the counter stands in front of a painting – that of a plantation home. She feels racism. She deals with those who see themselves as superior. There’s a grueling Skype conversation with a potential publicist. A black woman cannot get ahead because respect is never given.

To say Antebellum is critical of America’s inability to move past the racial divide undersells the thematic uniqueness

Then in deep south there’s a shot where Confederate soldiers march through a forest, torches held high in a clear referendum on the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. To say Antebellum is critical of America’s inability to move past the racial divide undersells the thematic uniqueness, even in an era increasingly swelling with potent black-led cinema like Get Out and Black KkKlansman, all peering into an inescapable establishment, bolstered by contemporary politics.

Antebellum isn’t masterful, but it is smart. Clever as the concept is, Antebellum never finds an urgency to move forward, lingering on brutal, uncomfortable slavery to make a point, as if other films like 12 Years a Slave avoided such truths. However, the opening – a staggeringly long, complex, uncut master shot – brilliantly dissects the mythologized South. A young girl enters frame left, bouncing to an idyllic mansion, the camera turning a corner toward the cotton fields and the utter brutality within. There’s grandly drawn contrast in those few minutes, more so than what follows for over 30 more.

In case Antebellum left doubts as to its agenda, in the final moments Veronica charges past a Robert E. Lee monument, crosses a Civil War reenactment, and passes the white people – one in a suggestive red ball cap – cheerily approaching the event. The image is unmistakably now and today, a film of this moment, unlikely to last (hopefully) given the nation’s (agonizingly slow) progress over time. Antebellum’s methods deserve credit though, truly creative and evocative in joining past and present as one, doing so in a way that many won’t notice, and that’s as powerful a point as Antebellum could possibly make.

Video

There’s significant noise in Antebellum’s image. Digitally lensed material struggles in low light, and generally that’s fine, but Lionsgate’s encode brings chroma issues into the mix. There’s notable discoloration and similar artifacting when things become busy or overloaded. The dinner scene with Veronica and friends chokes out the scene, failing to keep image integrity intact.

Shadows hide some issues, but not all. Density varies scene-to-scene, but it’s made clear this Dolby Vision effort readily achieves stable black levels when needed. Drier scenes in the old South add aging, attractively maturing the scenes without compromising dimensionality. It’s not a particularly bright transfer, letting candles handle lighting (obviously, considering) for most of the runtime, and those flames produce little intensity.

Sometimes garish color grading amplifies warmth over all, keeping primaries suppressed by extensive orange. Modern scenes carry a more natural touch, better saturated, if still focused on keeping the temperature identical. Only at the end, for a nighttime escape, does blue dominate, a reprieve, if also a lot to take.

Average resolution keeps detail consistent, rendering facial details sharply. Wide shots of fields resolve the farmlands. Definition isn’t striking, but capable.

Audio

Sparse design finds little use for Dolby Atmos. Throbbing music stings utilize the subwoofer to a minimal degree along with cannons at the end, the only range notable in a sedate mix.

Ambiance takes its place in the rears, routine, but at least adding some sonic depth. The end fight uses positional channels to audibly suggest a character’s presence off-screen (twigs snapping, leaves crunching). A voice or two escapes the center.

Extras

The History in Front of Us runs 67-minutes, exploring the production, the idea, execution, and thematic power. It’s excellent conversation. That’s followed by a short dive into the hints strewn about in the movie, and then a nice five-minute breakdown of the opening master shot. Deleted scenes last eight-minutes. Note Lionsgate includes these bonuses on both the Blu-ray and 4K disc.

Antebellum
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

While stubborn in its pacing, Antebellum cleverly draws racial parallels between old South and modern America.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 52 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: