For this review round-up, I’ll be talking about a trio of recent releases that include Antebellum from directors Christopher Renz and Gerard Bush, the wrestling documentary Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro, as well as McG’s latest horror comedy, The Babysitter: Killer Queen, which recently debuted exclusively on Netflix.
Antebellum: I had such high hopes for Antebellum going into it, but there’s a very precise moment in the film where it decides to take a huge left turn, and that’s when everything, to me, fell totally and completely apart with the story. Before that, I absolutely loved the characters, the performances, the costume design, as well as some fantastic production design that was a real highlight as well, and both the pacing and a palpable sense of tension made Antebellum an enthralling experience to watch unfold.
But when Antebellum makes its bold choice to switch gears (I’m being vague here on purpose), and head in a direction that doesn’t really work, it felt like filmmakers Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz were completely undoing all the good that came before that turn, and instead, were looking to try and impress audiences with a “gotcha!” moment that feels nonsensical at best. In fact, it’s almost like there’s a piece of this cinematic puzzle to Antebellum that never quite locks with the others, resulting in a project that feels a bit incomplete and harried in the end. I will always appreciate storytellers who take big, wide swings in an effort to deliver an audacious vision, but those swings need to make sense, too. And the story in Antebellum just doesn’t gel at all.
Truth be told, it’s hard to talk about what doesn’t work in Antebellum without wading into the waters of the Spoiler Sea, so I’m going to focus on what I did enjoy about the movie instead (plus, I’d rather spread around some positivity since that’s more constructive as a whole). The highlight of Antebellum is without a doubt the powerhouse lead performance from Janelle Monáe, who makes the movie worth watching despite its faults. Since the film has dual storylines that take place in different time periods, Monáe portrays two different characters—Eden in the past, and Veronica in modern times—which means we get a double dose of her charisma and star power while she clearly demonstrates here that she’s a force to be reckoned with on the screen. I also enjoyed several of the supporting performances in Antebellum, too, including Gabourey Sidibe (who is a longtime favorite of mine), Kiersey Clemons, and Lily Cowles, and their performances add a lot to the film as well.
It’s so unfortunate that instead of using Antebellum to have some very necessary and timely conversations about race and the real-life horrors so many are facing today, the filmmakers chose to deliver up a movie that wants to try and pull a fast one on viewers, because there are some themes and haunting imagery peppered throughout that deserve to be discussed. Unfortunately, I feel like the conversation around Antebellum will end up being about something entirely different, which feels like a real shame considering all the potential it starts off with.
Movie Score: 2/5
Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro: Getting to review two different wrestling documentaries in one year makes me feel like I’m being spoiled since I love when a documentarian can pull back the curtain on one of my favorite forms of entertainment and the indelible performers that made me fall in love with it in the first place. For Nail in the Coffin, we get a peek into the life of Vampiro (Ian Hodgkinson), who became a megastar in Mexico and continued to connect with fans all over the world through his work in companies like WCW and in Lucha Underground, and his recent involvement in AAA in Mexico.
Director Michael Paszt focuses a great deal of the documentary on Vampiro’s involvement in the wrestling industry, giving us a look at the rich history of wrestling in Mexico and what inspired Hodgkinson’s foray into the squared circle and his enigmatic character Vampiro in the first place. But beyond that, what Nail in the Coffin ends up really being about is a father who wants to do right by his daughter and his struggle to leave behind a business that has taken a great deal from him over the years, and he no longer feels passionate about. Professional wrestling can be something of a cruel mistress to those who dedicate their lives to it, and for Hodgkinson, a man who has suffered 25 concussions, a broken neck, and other potentially life-altering injuries, he’s now living with the debilitating consequences of his decades-spanning career.
Throughout the doc, we hear from Hodgkinson a great deal, but his daughter Dasha is also interviewed quite extensively, too, as she discusses how her dad’s career has also influenced her life, and the relationship they share as well. There’s a great deal of interviews featured throughout Nail in the Coffin with a lot of familiar faces from the wrestling industry, but admittedly, the documentary does tend to feel a bit unfocused at times, where it jumps around quite a bit, but it’s still entertaining all the same.
The only minor quibble I have with Nail in the Coffin is that for the screener I was provided with, the interview segments in Spanish were not subtitled, and when I tried to turn on the general subtitles for the doc, they were never consistent and usually appeared on the wrong parts of the documentary, so I do feel like I missed out on some key information provided here. That being said, everything else was highly enjoyable to watch and I would definitely recommend Nail in the Coffin to any wrestling fans out there looking to learn more about Vampiro and the legacy of wrestling in Mexico as a whole.
Movie Score: 4/5
The Babysitter: Killer Queen: As someone who found McG’s The Babysitter to be a whole lot more fun than I had expected going into it (for me, it felt like a companion piece to Scream Queens in a variety of ways), I’d say that The Babysitter: Killer Queen is a solid follow-up that gets far more right than it does wrong, and even if it feels about 15 minutes too long, it’s still hella fun all around.
For the sequel, we catch up with Cole (Judah Lewis) two years after the events of the first film, and he’s still as awkward as ever. This time, though, he’s got an even bigger problem than pining after the girl of his dreams—no one believes what happened to him, so he’s treated like something of a liar and an outcast, with his well-meaning parents (Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino) utilizing a handful of prescriptions as a means to contend with Cole’s “issues.” Needing to escape from life and all its complications, Cole decides to take off with Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind, reprising her role from The Babysitter) and a few friends to go party on a houseboat on a nearby lake. And as you may expect, mayhem ensues.
I totally understand why The Babysitter movies would be divisive amongst genre fans—you’re either on board for McG’s tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek approach or you’re not—but as someone who has always had a soft spot for horror comedies, I think both films serve as an entertaining conduit of gateway horror for those who may be new to the world of genre storytelling. Both films have a great sense of energy to them, courtesy of McG’s pop-polished directorial style, but beyond that, they feature the archetypal horror characters that we all know and love, but Killer Queen gives us the opportunity to get to know them even better, which makes them all the more delightfully endearing. And I was happy to see Robbie Amell, Hana Mae Lee, Andrew Bachelor, and Bella Thorne return for more supernatural shenanigans here, as their characters add a bit of The Frighteners-esque chaos to Killer Queen’s story, torturing poor Cole in different ways for the sequel. Newcomer Jenna Ortega is also a welcome addition to the Babysitter mix, and I really enjoyed how well she and Lewis played off of each other.
If you’re someone who wasn’t a fan of The Babysitter to begin with, I’m not sure that Killer Queen is going to do much for you. But for me, I thought the sequel proved there was still a great deal of fun to have with these characters, even if its finale relies a bit too much on dumping a ton of exposition on viewers, and recontextualizing its predecessor in a way that felt a little bit forced. That being said, McG does leave things open at the end of Killer Queen, and I am definitely interested to see just where he could take this story if he gets a chance to come back with a third movie to wrap things up. Also, it’s hard for me to dislike any movie that makes a Large Marge reference, so take that as you will.
Movie Score: 3/5