Sunday, 19 March 2017

Get Out review

With 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, and audience buzz all over the globe; I decided to check out the lauded directorial debut of Jordan Peele. Hit the jump to read my thoughts...

Part of me thinks that 'Get Out' was made a year too late. Its nuanced exploration of inherent racism and the hypocrisy of the liberal elite makes it more suited to less turbulent times. Indeed, as Peele has noted himself, the Obama presidency was a key touch-point - it takes the idea that racism is now some past memory for rich, left-wing Americans; and splatters it all over the walls. That said, in a year where the president of the States is banning Muslims from entering the country and calling Mexicans rapists, the racial tensions in America are pretty damn clear...

Why is he crying?
The other part of me acknowledges that 'Get Out' is a pretty incredible film on almost all counts - and nevertheless manages to successfully lampoon the 'I voted Hillary so I'm not racist' camp in spectacular fashion. I'm going to keep this review spoiler free (unlike a lot of other sites) so plot details are going to be sparse; but don't worry about having to avert your eyes.

Not only does 'Get Out' constitute Peele's first directorial effort; it also constitutes his first horror movie. Known as one half of always funny and occasionally hilarious iconic sketch duo 'Key and Peele', and the star/writer of the mostly underwhelming 'Keanu'; horror seems like a weird choice for the comedian. But, mind you, both genres focus on provoking a visceral reaction - so, perhaps, it's a natural fit.

We begin on a fantastic one-take sequence, which can only be best described as 'Halloween' meets the shooting of Trayvon Martin - accompanied with Flanagan and Allen's 'Run Rabbit Run'. This is followed by a slightly surreal and sumptuous credits sequence - set to Childish Gambino's 'Redbone'. A bold start to a horror movie for sure. And, with that, we're in.

This is still a horror movie
The fantastic Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris - a millenial photographer living in a clean, minimalist apartment with his beautiful girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams in an incredibly unique role). Their relationship is tender, cute, and has now been going on for 5 months - so it's time to meet the parents. One problem: they don't know Chris is black. Or, at least, Chris believes that it's a problem - asking Rose if she should perhaps inform them of the fact before they arrive.

That doesn't happen.

Approaching the Candieland-esque mansion, the pair encounter a racist policeman - the first of two incredibly uneasy encounters with law-enforcement which I believe provide the two standout moments of societal anger in the movie. However, the feds are the least of Chris's worries...

Indeed, from the arrival of the couple into the friendly family home onwards, it feels like there's something more sinister at play - especially with the two black servants that work for the Armitage's estate - Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) - acting bizzare towards Chris. Lets just say that things get a lot weirder.

That's all that needs to be said about the plot - but what begs to be discussed is the remarkable way in which Peele explores race relations throughout the movie - and genuinely provokes thoughtful discussion in viewers after the film is done. In the initial sequences with Rose's family, there are honest and non-exaggerated examples of some sort of inherent prejudice (Rose's dad calls Chris 'my man', gives him a lecture about how much he loves Jesse Owens, and informs him that he'd have 'voted for Obama for a third term' ). It's cringe-inducing, especially in the UK where the history of racial tension isn't so ingrained as the US (a fact which has caused an unnecessary conflict between Samuel L Jackson and Daniel Kaluuya about whether British actors are suited to playing black Americans). There are uncomfortable silences, and the seeming need for justifications everywhere - Dean (the dad) feels the need to explain the families hiring of black servants where, presumably, he wouldn't have felt the need to before.

Happier times...
A lot of this stuff is so subliminal that it's interesting to have a film built around the discussion of race that allows us to pay more attention and observe what's going on behind the scenes to draw our own better reasoned and intelligent conclusions. Of course, at points, it bubbles to the surface in more extreme ways. A character references the 'superior build' of black people; or another asks Rose 'Is it better?' (yeah, you know what she means). And, in other scenes (particularly the ending shots), racism portrayed does reach the levels of a more radical and less-moderate America. Indeed, although we've got to talk about the central themes of 'Get Out'  in the pages of this review; the key asset here is that it's never over-egged. Iconic phrases such as 'A mind is a terrible thing to waste' drift on the wind from TV programs, aiding the thematic exploration without forcing it down your throat. The audience doesn't want preaching, so they don't get it - what they get instead is a wildly original thrill ride (themes aside), and Peele is to be commended for not sacrificing his story to his debate.

A lot has been made out of the appearance of an Asian character in the movie that I'm sure you can google in your own time (after having seen it). And, personally, I see the conclusions that Peele makes with this statement as justified. His film focuses on the subjugation of African-Americans in the US; and implicating other minority groups in this particular subjugation seems correct, no? In other words, why are people who are perfectly OK to see white culture criticized not OK with seeing Asian culture criticized?

Something ain't quite right...
And here, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make a non-Oscar bait movie about race. Films like '12 Years a Slave' have a hard, calculating soul - aimed at evoking widespread anger and sadness at the portrayal of extreme violence on enslaved characters. There's no real depth, no real honest motivation in making them other than gunning for awards. 'Get Out' wants to ask honest, relevant, and interesting questions. It's a unique, meaningful, and passionate affair that has no qualms with retaining its own identity and really going for gold on its own key themes. It's a singular vision that wastes no time with trying to pull an emotional reaction out of endless suffering or events that we already know are bad. And nor does it try and pull the 'white guilt' card; indeed, Peele makes his film more about knowledge and entertainment than any kind of vindication or vendetta against white people. It's one of the key strengths of an incredibly strong film and proves just one more stand out example of why the critical love is entirely justified.

No matter what people say to you or add on the bottom of reviews for a bonus tidbit, do not believe claims that 'Get Out' is 'terrifying', or indeed 'scary' for one second. This just isn't that type of movie: it's more of what Peele calls a 'social thriller'. There are 2 or 3 cheap-ass Blumhouse scares - which don't really need to be in the movie; and there is a tension-filled scene involving walking round a darkened house, but that's about it. It feels a lot more like there's a 'Shutter Island' chilling vibe that cedes often to riveting suspense and tension, but very rarely outright horror. It may be the Blumhouse promotional materials curse, but the advertising is one or two tones off - 'Get Out' may be a psychological thriller of the 1st degree, and an excellent horror movie, but if you're looking solely for scares then you'd be best looking elsewhere.

The mysterious hosts...
Completely aside from the unsettling atmosphere and pick n mix thrills, there's a real vein of humor that runs through the whole affair. For a start, there are the awkward laughs that rear their heads when the discussion turns to race - and the audience can pinpoint Chris's confusion at the blatant 'otherness' with which he is presented. But then there's the dynamic between Chris and his TSA friend Rod (played by LilRel Howry) which plays like a feature straight out of Key & Peele. Indeed, although at points the tone crashing seems a little inappropriate, it's all part of the plan; and some of the scenes featuring LilRel are the funniest in the movie. It's an interesting tactic to have the 'comedy sidekick' as a horror character - but it works remarkably well.

Peele also endows his effort with an idiosyncratic and auteurish visual style - switching from Kubrick to Carpenter by way of Jonathan Glazer; and follows this up with an impressive sound design - the music of 2017 clashes with early 20th century pieces (suggesting an age-old problem running through society). It's truly an all round performer.

This is the best horror film since 'It Follows', which I'm sure you'll remember also caused quite a stir upon release. It's creepy as hell, funny as fuck, and beautiful to look at. It has a perfect sound design, tempo, and color palette. But it also has something to important to say and discuss as well. Indeed, a subject which it discusses to great length, and in one of the most thought provoking ways possible. As far as Peele is concerned, as long as this goes on, African-Americans are always trapped in 'the sunken place'. 'Get Out' makes other horror movies look boring in comparison.
'Get Out' gets 5 stars!


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