Skip to main content

Sink into the floor.

Get Out
(2017)

(SPOILERS) Movies, let alone horror movies, with a satirical edge are few and far between, so when one comes along and delivers on the thrills and scares, it’s nigh on a minor miracle. I purposefully stayed as spoiler-free as I could for Get Out, which is undoubtedly a key to its effectiveness – the trailer is shockingly remiss in that regard, and I’m glad I didn’t watch it first – but even more so is how deftly observed and layered debut director Jordan Peele’s screenplay is (as a director, meanwhile, he has the confidence of one who’s been doing this for years). The beginning of the year gave us a movie with a leftfield twist in Split, and Get Out offers one that goes even further; there’s a leap required here, undoubtedly, and if it isn’t perhaps the most elegantly conceived of metaphors, it is one that’s rigorously sustained, and Peele brings events to such a rousingly cathartic conclusion that any misgivings seem almost churlish.


Peele is clearly well-versed in horror fare, but it’s only at the point of his lurch into mad scientist territory that Get Out feels as if it’s overtly relying on the genre for props. Other elements brush up against recognisable set ups, from the dinner party from hell (the recent, very good, The Invitation did the same, and notably also opened with its en route protagonists portentously hitting a deer) by way of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, to the claustrophobic, isolated community or environment from which there is no escape, one that seems to close inexorably around its lead character (The Wicker Man, Kill List), to the detectives humouring a legitimate crier of wolf with his tall tale (The Terminator), to the Kubrickian design of the conditioning room, to the concept of the Sunken Place (its visual cues can be found in everything from Dust Devil to Under the Skin).


And even then, he just about gets away with it, thanks to laying the groundwork with an almost as eccentric trope, that of the all-powerful hypnotist (Catherine Keener’s performance as matriarch Rose Armitage might be the most unsettling in the movie, all steely certainty and invasive assuredness, but I’m nevertheless unconvinced that anyone could be hypnotised by something as annoying as scraping a spoon around a teacup, any more than scratching nails down a blackboard).  And the reveal itself, that the black staff, whom we (and very vocally, LilRel Howery’s welcome comic relief sidekick Rod, whose presence is much needed for sporadic defusing of tension) have assumed to be brainwashed abductees, are inhabited by the essences of the elder Armitages causes significant backflips in reinterpreting what we have seen.


We thought we were simply back in Driving Miss Daisy territory, with much of the preceding picture doing a merciless job in exposing the prejudices lurking beneath white liberal inclusiveness, but the appropriation of their actual bodies, an additional layer of enslavement, adds an effective twist (as well as offering a take on those who would “lose” or bury their blackness). Running through this, beyond black being “fashionable now”, is an envy of perceived physicality, virility and creativity. The grandfather, who was beaten to the 1936 Olympics by Jesse Owens (“He almost got over it”), now races around the grounds at night, because he can, while Stephen Root’s art dealer believes occupying Chris’s body will furnish him with the talent he lacked as a photographer when he was still sighted.


Admittedly, some of Peele’s conceits don’t quite translate; we see Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield) abducted by Jeremy Armitage (Caleb Landry Jones, doing one of his customary bizarro performances; he’s much more effective in the recent War on Everyone, but he’s certainly occupying a niche) in the first scene without any particular delicacy, so the pains the household go to in entertaining Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris seem slightly superfluous. There’s also a vague disconnect in motivation; if these rich white folks see their victims from such a superior position, would they really want to take possession of them, even given they are seen as disposable (it’s unclear if they would be as willing to prey on white people, although Root’s character professes as much)? Although, it’s often the case that, where one attempts to chart consistency in movie metaphors, they don’t entirely follow through. And there is a vague feeling, given how well-observed it is before we discover the extent of its Stepford Wives plot, that the picture might have been even more successful had it remained more grounded (simply because the observation is so strong up to that point).


The final stages, as Chris fights back, are enormously satisfying, all the more so because of the entirely capable way in which he goes about it. I feared half an hour of hide and seek, but he’s braining and running through (with deer antlers) and stabbing and braining some more with no-nonsense aplomb. That the picture also ends on a victorious note, having faked us out with the more probable outcome, is also a key to its success. Peele apparently filmed another, more downbeat ending, but like Heathers I don’t necessarily think it needed underlining. We all know what the reality would be, and Get Out’s genre trappings have already made abundantly clear it isn’t that.


Hence Armond White’s review, one of the few negatives, accusing Peele of “Reducing racial politics to trite horror comedy, it’s an Obama movie for Tarantino fans”. I can see what he’s saying here – although some of his comments along the way had me raising my eyebrows, not least his baffling celebration of recent Eddie Murphy movies – as there’s something of a pop-disposability about its packaging, but that doesn’t make the picture any less insightful. Yes, Get Out’s a picture that delves into racial politics in a manner that won’t, for all its acuteness, make most white audience members wretchedly uncomfortable (because its immediate targets are the affluent untouchables, and one can profess remove from such social bracketing), but the workings of Peele’s theme, that “The movie was meant to reveal that there’s this monster of racism lurking underneath seemingly innocent conversations and situations” are instantly recognisable.


From Dean’s (Bradley Whitford) oft-quoted line about how he would have voted for Obama for a third term to his excruciating, ingratiating “My man” address, Peele lays bare the minefield of presumed well-meaning conversation that reveals its own set of assumptions, prejudices and undercurrents. This is a picture with too much going on to pick up from a single viewing, indicative of how meticulous Peele’s writing is. Just on a symbolic level, particularly cunning is that Chris is picking cotton (from the chair he is bound to) in order to gain his freedom.


Both leads, Kaluuya (who I first really noticed in the sadly-cancelled-after-one-season The Fades) and Allison Williams, deliver fine performances. The reveal of Rose, even though we know it’s coming (the handy box of photos is perhaps a too familiar device, albeit undoubtedly works as part of the escalation), is a masterfully staged and acted moment. Jordan Peele’s movie has done huge business in America, and if it looks unlikely to replicate that internationally, as Blumhouse’s other big hit this year Split has done, it surely represents the pinnacle of the horror house’s output thus far, so the overwhelming critical kudos are probably more than enough compensation.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

They make themselves now.

Screamers (1995)
(SPOILERS) Adapting Philip K Dick isn’t as easy as it may seem, but that doesn't stop eager screenwriters from attempting to hit that elusive jackpot. The recent Electric Dreams managed to exorcise most of the existential gymnastics and doubts that shine through in the best versions of his work, leaving material that felt sadly facile. Dan O'Bannon had adapted Second Variety more than a decade before it appeared as Screamers, a period during which he and Ronald Shusett also turned We Can Remember It For You Wholesale into Total Recall. So the problem with Screamers isn't really the (rewritten) screenplay, which is more faithful than most to its source material (setting aside). The problem with Screamers is largely that it's cheap as chips.

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

My pectorals may leave much to be desired, Mrs Peel, but I’m the most powerful man you’ve ever run into.

The Avengers 2.23: The Positive-Negative Man
If there was a lesson to be learned from Season Five, it was not to include "man" in your title, unless it involves his treasure. The See-Through Man may be the season's stinker, but The Positive-Negative Man isn't far behind, a bog-standard "guy with a magical science device uses it to kill" plot. A bit like The Cybernauts, but with Michael Latimer painted green and a conspicuous absence of a cool hat.

The possibilities are gigantic. In a very small way, of course.

The Avengers 5.24: Mission… Highly Improbable
With a title riffing on a then-riding-high US spy show, just as the previous season's The Girl from Auntie riffed on a then-riding-high US spy show, it's to their credit that neither have even the remotest connection to their "inspirations" besides the cheap gags (in this case, the episode was based on a teleplay submitted back in 1964). Mission… Highly Improbable follows in the increasing tradition (certainly with the advent of Season Five and colour) of SF plotlines, but is also, in its particular problem with shrinkage, informed by other recent adventurers into that area.

What a truly revolting sight.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (aka Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) (2017)
(SPOILERS) The biggest mistake the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels have made is embracing continuity. It ought to have been just Jack Sparrow with an entirely new cast of characters each time (well, maybe keep Kevin McNally). Even On Stranger Tides had Geoffrey Rush obligatorily returning as Barbossa. Although, that picture’s biggest problem was its director; Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge has a pair of solid helmers in Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, which is a relief at least. But alas, the continuity is back with a vengeance. And then some. Why, there’s even an origin-of-Jack Sparrow vignette, to supply us with prerequisite, unwanted and distracting uncanny valley (or uncanny Johnny) de-aging. The movie as a whole is an agreeable time passer, by no means the dodo its critical keelhauling would suggest, albeit it isn’t even pretending to try hard to come up with …

Bring home the mother lode, Barry.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

If Panos Cosmatos’ debut had continued with the slow-paced, tripped-out psychedelia of the first hour or so I would probably have been fully on board with it, but the decision to devolve into an ‘80s slasher flick in the final act lost me.

The director is the son of George Pan Cosmatos (he of The Cassandra Crossing and Cobra, and in name alone of Tombstone, apparently) and it appears that his inspiration was what happened to the baby boomers in the ‘80s, his parents’ generation. That element translates effectively, expressed through the extreme of having a science institute engaging in Crowley/Jack Parsons/Leary occult quests for enlightenment in the ‘60s and the survivors having become burnt out refugees or psychotics by the ‘80s. Depending upon your sensibilities, the torturously slow pace and the synth soundtrack are positives, while the cinematography managed to evoke both lurid early ‘80s cinema and ‘60s experimental fare. 

Ultimately the film takes a …