Warning: spoilers for the twist and ending of Antebellum are in play. If you’re not looking to spoil the specifics just yet, turn back around and head back to the outside world. We’ll be here waiting once you’ve caught up.
Early in 2020, writer/director duo Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s cryptic film Antebellum teased a film that looked as wild as it did twisted. And for sure, by time audiences arrived at the end of the film after its release last weekend, there was one huge twist that needed to be talked out when all was said and done. As the Antebellum ending depends on this particular twist to work, the fact that people have been speculating whether or not the twist works at all is something that needs to be discussed in the same breath as that action packed conclusion.
Like any good friend that enjoys heading to a diner after the movies, discussing everything that’s taken place over a healthy portion of fries and coffee, we’re here to provide some in deep conversation as to how Antebellum dropped that twist. Not only that, but we’ll also explain some of the clues you may have missed throughout the film, thanks to an interview with Bush & Renz that took place with CinemaBlend’s own Eric Eisenberg. All that’s left is for you to make yourself fries and coffee, or any other snack and drink combo you prefer, as we’re about to head deep into the woods of Antebellum’s dark fable. So last call for those adverse to spoilers to drop out.
What Happened At The End Of Antebellum?
Throughout Antebellum’s course of events, we’ve seen successful author and activist Veronica Henley (Janelle Monae) go from press appearances and speaking engagements to Civil War era style slavery. Abducted by the mysterious Elizabeth (Jena Malone) and a man known as Captain Jasper (Jack Huston), Veronica takes an Uber ride from hell into what seems to be America’s past. Enduring the civil inequities endemic of the time Veronica is renamed Eden, and forced to work the fields, serve the family, and satisfy the carnal needs of “Him” (Eric Lange).
Constantly planning to escape, but struggling to find the right opportunity, Veronica/Eden finally decides that it’s time to break free from slavery, after seeing two fellow slaves die in rather gruesome ways. This is where the big twist of Antebellum really comes into play, as Veronica’s first step to escaping is using the cell phone of one Senator Blake Denton; or as he was previously introduced, “Him”.
It turns out that Veronica is still very much in the present, with the good Senator and his daughter abducting Black people according to Elizabeth’s personal specifications. After killing Senator Denton and Captain Jasper in a crematorium incident, and finishing Elizabeth after a thrilling chase on horseback, Veronica escapes the grounds of the supposed plantation and back into the living world.
A plane soars in the skies, as she rides to freedom, and throughout the epilogue, we see law enforcement investigate and liberate Senator Blake Denton’s civil war reenactment park. Aptly named Antebellum, the last image we see is a man bulldozing the sign marking the entrance, in a now overgrown field. It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it? Well, take a moment and check the details above, because we’re about to head into the next segment of our discussion, which dives into the exact twist of Antebellum.
The Twist Of Antebellum, Explained
So the big twist of Antebellum is, in some ways, very much a riff on the one that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan executed in his 2004 film The Village. Similar to how that film’s big reveal pertains to its eponymous location, we find out that Veronica wasn’t abducted by some villainous family and whisked back into the past. Rather, the horrors of Antebellum exist in the present day, with those engaging in such horrific acts belonging to a fringe of fanatics who want to go back to the good old days. Only in this case, the good old days happen to be a plantation where a reenactment of the Civil War sees The South rising again.
Every person that was abducted and renamed by the Denton family was picked by Elizabeth, for whatever reasons she had. Except, of course, for Veronica; who happened to be a specially targeted abduction that Senator Denton was particularly keen on executing. Which is all the more interesting, considering Senator Denton was in the middle of an election campaign for his Senate seat at that very time: a fact that is crucial to hinting at the film’s big twist.
Why The Twist In Antebellum Makes Absolute Sense
Throughout the entirety of Antebellum, there are a scattering of clues that hint towards the film’s ultimate truth. In particular, the modern day section of the film’s story has quite a few nods to Senator Blake Denton’s actual career as a senator sprinkled through Veronica’s fateful night out. Clues that were confirmed by Gerald Bush and Christopher Renz in the following remarks, which were made during their interview with our own Eric Eisenberg:
Bush: We hate those "wrap it up" movies; that's not what we were looking to do. We have a lot of confidence in the imagination of the movie-going audience. And I think that what they can come up with in their minds is much more sinister and evil than what we've already put on screen. We have those Easter eggs where you know, if you pay attention, you see Senator [Denton] on the billboard.
Renz: During the kidnapping, you see him on the screen above the bar and the restaurant scene. He's everywhere, basically.
Sure enough, if you watch the TVs at the bar before Gabourey Sidibe dresses down the creepy man who tries to buy her a drink, you’ll see Denton’s visage on display. An even quicker glance is shown in the sequence where Jasper and Elizabeth have Veronica in their van, as a wide shot shows a huge side of a building with a “Re-elect Senator Denton” message painted all alongside of it. Of course, you may not have seen that, as you were trying to figure out just what was going on; something that the ad campaign prior to the film helped in distracting its own audience from figuring out.
How Antebellum Throws The Audience Off The Scent Of Its Twist
There are two rather effective methods that Antebellum’s filmmakers and marketing department have used to throw the audience out of whack with what they’re experiencing. The first, and most effective, is of course the film’s trailer. Slick and creepy editing help suggest that a more supernatural element is at play, which only helps sell the film’s status as a product “from the producer of Get Out and Us”. Also, that shot of the disappearing airplane is the kicker that may have sent folks down a rabbit hole of different intentions. Which leads to the second trick that Antebellum uses to flip the audience on their heads: the editing of the film itself.
Veronica’s narrative is split into two very different sections, her life before the abduction and her life after the abduction. However, instead of telling this story in a linear fashion, we see her life as “Eden” on the plantation first, before we’re introduced to her actual, modern persona. So the implication of time traveling abduction, cleverly planted into people’s minds with the trailer, takes hold in the first act. So by time we reach the end of Act II, where Veronica’s abduction in the here and now is depicted, we see that Senator Denton and his family aren’t time travelers, just very vile Civil War history buffs.
Of course, just because the twist to Antebellum works in the interior logic of the actual film, doesn't mean that this concept works for the world. Which leads us to turn this subject over to you the reader, as we'd love to read your thoughts on just what you thought of the ending to Antebellum! So please, vote in the poll below, and submit your comments on how you feel about one of the most controversial endings of 2020. And if you’ve somehow read this whole thing without seeing the film for yourself, you should definitely watch Antebellum for yourself, as it’s available on VOD right now!