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Film / Antebellum

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"Eden? They will never take you away from me."

Antebellum is a 2020 horror thriller film written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. It stars Janelle Monáe, Gabourey Sidibe, Jena Malone, Kiersey Clemons, Lily Cowles, Eric Lange and Jack Huston.

Successful author Veronica Henley (Monáe) finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality that forces her to confront the past, present and future — before it's too late. She later discovers that the past is the present and that now is soon.

Tropes include:

  • 2 + Torture = 5: “Him” forces Veronica to say her name is Eden after branding her. His overall plan is to remold her as his personal plaything through a combination of constant abuse and Confederate-style roleplay.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Jasper ends up pleading for his life with Veronica, even calling her by her real name, when he realizes he's about to be burned alive.
  • Arbitrarily Large Bank Account: After The Reveal, it's clear that there's no way the villains can actually be selling the cotton they're forcing people to harvest by hand. They have enough money and resources to fund kidnapping, feeding, maintaining, and guarding people who, unlike their counterparts 200 years ago, aren't making them money in return and growing and harvesting crops that can't make a profit. They're wealthy enough to support a plantation-lifestyle not only without relying on slave labor to contribute to the funds but to keep slaves anyway for fun instead of profit, even to directly pay for the pleasure of doing so. Then again, considering the expanse of the park, it’s likely that some of the “soldiers” could be paying for maintenance in exchange for acting out their fantasy.
  • Artistic License – History: The plantation Veronica is kept on is patrolled by Confederate soldiers despite taking place before the American Civil War, and one of the slave women has a septum piercing. Deliberately Invoked as the plantation is actually a theme park in the modern day.
  • Ax-Crazy: Daddy's Little Villain Elizabeth, already a racist zealot, shows just how unhinged she is when chasing after an escaped Veronica.
  • "Angry Black Man" Stereotype: Gender-inverted and discussed by Eden/Veronica during her speech at the inclusivity ceremony. She states that black women are expected to be quiet, or they get dubbed as being angry and irrational. By the end of the movie, she has become a far more victorious and very well-justified version of this trope.
  • Becoming the Mask: By the climactic Chase Scene, Elizabeth seems to have thoroughly confused fantasy with reality. She uses a horse and primitive pistols instead of a modern vehicle or weapons, calls to "Eden" as if she's actually a runaway slave instead of a 21st century kidnap victim, and tells her she's good for nothing but picking cotton despite the fact that the cotton picking isn't real and not practiced that way anywhere else. She talks as if her lifestyle on the plantation is real and practicable and as if there isn't a legal system in place to protect her victim, so she has nowhere to go.
  • Big Bad: Senator Denton/“Him”, a racist politician trying to preserve the Confederate way of life in secret. He not only used his position to beat and oppress the “slaves” but regularly rapes Veronica.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Dawn (played by Gabourey Sidibe). When she goes out to dinner with Veronica and Sarah (both of whom are very easy on the eyes), she is the one who draws all of the male attention.
  • Big Fun: Veronica's friend Dawn is a Big Beautiful Woman and Sassy Black Woman who makes no secret of the fact that she intends to use their night out to get laid and text Veronica all of the details as it is happening.
  • Bigot with a Crush:
    • Deconstructed with "Him", who forces Veronica to live with him despite being horrifically racist and abusive to black people. Although “crush” might be giving him too much credit, since he rapes Veronica and only values her as an object. In fact, he actually jeopardized his full-scale re-enactment of slavery by specifically choosing to kidnap Veronica.
    • Daniel is a subversion. He is, at first, implied to be one of these, as he chooses to act out the role of a Confederate soldier but is also bashful and tongue-tied around Julia. When she actively tries to appeal to this part of his personality, though, he brutally beats her.
  • Cheerful Child: Veronica's daughter is consistently energetic and open, and is the apple of the eyes of Veronica herself and her friends.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Veronica's talents at both yoga and horse-jumping come into play in the climax.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: At the end, Elizabeth complains that Veronica’s escape and the destruction of the park could have been avoided if her father hadn’t broken procedure and kidnapped someone on a whim.
  • Creepy Child: Elizabeth's daughter, who treats the slaves like life-size dolls, is creepy enough in the segments set during the Civil War. When she shows up in Veronica's hotel in the modern day—still dressed in period clothes—the effect is multiplied. There is even a shot of her framed in the hotel corridor outside Veronica's room in a Shout-Out to The Shining.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: Elizabeth is Denton’s daughter and helps him pick which people to enslave.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: After Veronica is lured into a fake Uber, Jasper grabs her from behind and starts throttling her before knocking her unconscious by slamming her head into the window.
  • Death by Irony: Politically Incorrect Villain Elizabeth has been running a plantation staffed by kidnapped slave labor so she can live life as it it was the antebellum South. She dies while being dragged behind Veronica's horse and her head slams into the base of a statue of General Robert E. Lee.
  • Dehumanization: Par for the course for fake Confederate soldiers acting out forced slavery role-play with kidnapped black folk.
  • Dirty Old Man: The film has a particularly unsettling and disgusting example in "Him", a sextagenarian man who kidnaps Vernoica, who is at least a couple decades his junior, and repeatedly coerces her into sex. His daughter offhandedly implies that he's raped other women in the past, and that Veronica is just "his favorite girl."
  • Driven to Suicide: Julia after a rough night of abuse from a Confederate soldier causes her to lose her unborn child.
  • Evil Is Petty: Elizabeth messes up Veronica's hotel suite for no reason than to mess with her. This includes leaving strands of her hair in Veronica's bed, stealing Veronica's lipstick, and using the toilet and not flushing.
  • Evil Reactionary: Senator Denton's cabal practices Confederate-era slavery behind the screen of a theme park.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Subverted! What seems on the surface like modern day African-American people being sent to the past to be slaves is in actuality racist zealots abducting and enslaving them in modern day in a hidden area of a Civil War reenactment park.
  • Flat Character: All of the villains are seemingly one note raving racists. Given that the re-enactment park is specifically catering to people who want to role-play as Confederate soldiers and abuse the black "slaves", their almost cartoonish villainy is justified.
  • For the Evulz: Plantations in Antebellum America were driven by greed, dehumanizing, abusing, and exploiting innocent people to make the owners money. This plantation is driven by sheer sadism, dehumanizing and abusing innocent people for no practical reason except they find it fun. Given that none of the "soldiers" are actually real, there's no Civil War, and they are simply racists acting out their fantasies of power, it's justified.
  • Hate Sink: "Him", real name Senator Blake Denton, is a slaver who runs a plantation where black people are forced to pick cotton that he'll never actually sell and where anyone who tries to escape will be tortured or killed. He also deliberately kidnapped Veronica for himself from her family to rape, and personally sticks an ax in Eli's chest when he tries to fight back.
  • Heroic BSoD: Veronica falls into stunned silence after being raped by "Him." She breaks out of it upon realizing that her captor unknowingly brought the key to her escape to the plantation.
  • Horseback Heroism: At the end of the film, Veronica, wearing a Union tunic and brandishing a hatchet, goes charging on horseback through the middle of a mock American Civil War battle.
  • The Jailer: Senator Denton and his daughter Elizabeth are a slave camp where kidnapped black people are forced to live as slaves in the antebellum South.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Elizabeth at first seems like a modern day racist Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who deals in microagressions, when in reality she's way worse, being part of a cult that kidnaps black people and enslaves them at a secret part of a theme park.
  • Kill It with Fire: How Veronica disposes of Denton, Jasper, and an unlucky guard.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The villains are killed off with equipment from their own fake plantation. For bonus points, Elizabeth gets her neck snapped with a rope not long after Julia hanged herself.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Despite being on a plantation full of other slaves who are also modern day trafficking victims rather than having generations-in-bondage slave mentalities, none of them did much to change anything before Veronica. However, we do see at the beginning that some attempted to escape, but were brutally punished (with the woman murdered).
  • Mark of Shame: After her latest attempt to run away fails, the General brands his slave mark on Eden's back to identify her as his property.
  • Meaningful Rename: New slaves are forced to use different names when brought to the plantation.
  • Murder by Cremation: Veronica locks the General and Captain Jasper inside the burning shed—the building used to cremate the bodies of the slaves—and then lights the fire underneath it.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Not actually done, at least as far as the audience knows, but "Him" is shown ominously griping about what will happen if he sees Veronica's "pathetic husband" one more time.
  • Motif: Quite a few:
    • Names. Veronica is forced to change her name to "Eden", and all of the other slaves do the same. This is just another way for the "soldiers" to dehumanize her. Once she starts fighting back, she declares her true name. "Him" is also not given a name as clearly because he is so unrepentantly awful that he doesn't deserve it.
    • Silence. The slaves are not allowed to speak unless spoken to, and many of them, including Julia and Eli, have difficulties adhering to the rule understandably (Julia screams and cries aloud in the plantation, while Eli talks behind "Him"'s back). When the slaves cry, they need to muffle themselves. In contrast, Veronica was a public speaker and debater who spoke her mind and was rarely quiet. When the "soldiers" are locked up and burned to death, she mocks them with a shush. When she escapes on horseback, she lets out a battle cry.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer suggests there is some supernatural element to the plot, such as the protagonist somehow time travelling from the 21st century to the 19th century. The explanation is actually more mundane; the film takes place entirely in the 21st century, with modern black people being kidnapped by white supremacists.
  • Not My Driver: Elizabeth kidnaps Veronica by pretending to be her Uber driver.
  • The Oner: The film opens with a sweeping tracking shot that begins coming across the lawns to the idyllic façade of the plantation manor house. The shot continues—growing darker both in lighting and subject matter—sweeping past the house and through the Confederate troops and house slaves, to the back of the property where the field slaves labor, finishing with Captain Jasper swigging from his hip flask as he prepares to ride down a runaway slave.
  • One-Word Title
  • Phony Veteran: As it turns out, none of the Confederates are actual soldiers. They just use the plantation to act out their twisted fantasies.
  • The Place: The Reveal shows that 'Antebellum' is the name of the theme park where the fake plantation is hidden.
  • Politically Correct History: This is obviously otherwise averted completely, but it's played straight in one very weird way: despite the wicked plantation owners and Confederate soldiers committing unspeakable atrocities against the slaves, not once do they use the word "nigger," even though it was commonplace in the Antebellum South. The fact that this isn't the Antebellum South at all makes it even stranger - surely these people would be chomping at the bit to let out all their racial animus, n-word included?
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The mysterious organization that enslaved Veronica and others and sent them into the past are a modern-day group of racists and revanchists who make money selling the opportunity to pretend to be part of the old status quo of white ownership of black chattel at a twisted theme park.
  • Quick Nip: Captain Jasper carries a hip flask and is often showing taking a quick pull from it before doing something unpleasant, such as riding down a runaway slave and shooting her.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: A scene at "Him"'s cabin starts just after he's finished raping Veronica.
  • The Reveal: First, that Eden is actually Veronica, a minority-rights activist somehow hurled back in time onto a plantation, which the trailers gave away. Second, that she wasn't hurled back in time, and the plantation exists in the modern day in a private corner of an antebellum reenactment site, where wealthy racists can pay a pretty penny to live out the fantasy of being part of the Old South on a twisted theme park.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Veronica's friend Dawn has a 'take no shit' attitude and no issue with taking task a restaurant hostess who tries to seat them at the worst table because they are black. Veronica herself, to an extent.
  • Shout-Out: There is a shot through Veronica's hotel door of the blonde-haired girl standing in the middle of the hotel corridor, staring at Veronica, much like the ghost girls in The Shining.
  • Slave Brand: After her latest attempt to run away fails, the General brands his slave mark on Eden's back to identify her as his property
  • Southern Belle: Elizabeth is a "mauvais" version, what with kidnapping black people and helping to run the plantation park while lording it over them on the actual plantation. The Dead Horse Trope is also intentional in this case, although it's not a period piece.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Invoked. Veronica sets up a trap by pretending to try to save the life of her captor, Senator Denton.
  • Smug Snake: Elizabeth is a haughty, preening socialite who gets taken out with relative ease before being dealt a brutal Neck Snap.
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: It's implied at the end that Elizabeth's distaste for Veronica, apart from her general racism, comes from the latter being a successful celebrity author and activist.
  • The Theme Park Version: In-Universe, literally. Real plantation owners used their field slaves to fund the plantation and lifestyle. That's not necessary to fund this park (and wouldn't be possible with the industrialized, slave-labor-free commercial cotton industry they would have to compete against), but they still use people as slaves against their will to complete the picture, making them do things like pick cotton for sadistic pleasure, not profit.
  • Tragic Keepsake: When Captain Jasper forces Eli to clean out the burning shed, he finds his wife's cross necklace in the ashes. He wears it for the rest of the film.
  • Villain Ball: The villains' need to immerse themselves in the Old South fantasy is so strong, they don't even have modern tools stashed anywhere to use against rebels or escapees. If they'd kept sniper rifles or Jeeps on hand somewhere for emergency use, Veronica never would have been able to escape like she does on horseback.
  • War Reenactors: The Confederate troops are a group of war reenactors who have bought in way too heavily to recreating the antebellum South. The plantation is located in a historical theme park which recreates Civil War battles, and the final chase takes place in the middle of one.
  • What a Drag: During her escape, Veronica manages to lasso Elizabeth. Following their hand-to-hand fight, Veronica jumps on her horse and gallops off, still holding the rope. Elizabeth gets dragged only behind Veronica's horse before suffering Death by Irony when her head slams into the base of a statue of General Robert E. Lee.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Played for Horror. Elizabeth is openly racist and cruel inside the plantation, but acts mildly tone-deaf and obtuse outside it.