Why Did I Watch It? Good question.
In the Civil War era American South, a group of slaves struggle to survive on a particularly brutal plantation. It’s one run by Confederate soldiers, to produce income and supplies for the troops, and their management makes Michael Fassbender’s in ’12 Years a Slave’ look positively sunny. As well as being repeatedly beaten and sexually assaulted, these slaves are also condemned to silence. They are only allowed to speak if one of their overseers tells them to; the first of many heavy handed metaphors.
Meanwhile, in the present day, an accomplished black historian, Veronica, publishes a new book on the American constitution. She is a proud leader within her community and not afraid to take on the haters; courting controversy with her opinions, and defending herself in the media. Both Veronica and one of the slaves from the earlier section are played by the same actress, Janelle Monae: what is their connection?
Unfortunately, this film does not have a very inventive answer. Spoiler alert: Wealthy white supremacists have taken over an old civil war re-enactment village, and turned it into a sadistic playground for their worst desires. People of colour that get in their sights are kidnapped, brought to this place, and tortured. It is ‘Hostel’ and ‘The Hunt’, redone with more topicality, and delivered with the finesse of the worst episodes of ‘Black Mirror’.
The scenes set in the plantation are extremely unpleasant. While this is a dark chapter in American history, the film does not have anything new to say about it. Violence and unsettling imagery I can handle in aid of a story, or a thematic idea. Here they the whole movie; gratuitous for the sake of being the MOST EXTREME. What are the film makers trying to say? Racism is bad? America still has racial issues? Check, check. Got it. Thanks. And the film’s big twist is one that has been over utilised to the point of ridiculous cliche. People regularly make fun of ‘The Village’, imagine that only with sadism added.
Hard to find anything positive to say about this. Even the cinematography looks like a hyperactive kid has gone to town on the footage with some instagram filters. The flashy opening shot, tracking through the plantation and delivering a little preview of all of the horrible shit that is going to be rammed in your face, is an amateurish attempt to ape Emmanuel Lubezki. The whole film is like this; a dismal rip off of other better movies, ideas, and talents.
Monae is good in a thankless role, one star for her. Otherwise grim, turgid and ridiculous.