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

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

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…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

He's a wild creature. We can't ask him to be anything else.

The Shape of Water (2017)
(SPOILERS) The faithful would have you believe it never went away, but it’s been a good decade since Guillermo del Toro’s mojo was in full effect, and his output since (or lack thereof: see the torturous wilderness years of At the Mountains of Madness and The Hobbit), reflected through the prism of his peak work Pan’s Labyrinth, bears the hallmarks of a serious qualitative tumble. He put his name to stinker TV show The Strain, returned to movies with the soulless Pacific Rim and fashioned flashy but empty gothic romance Crimson Peak (together his weakest pictures, and I’m not forgetting Mimic). The Shape of Water only seems to underline what everyone has been saying for years, albeit previously confined to his Spanish language pictures: that the smaller and more personal they are, the better. If his latest is at times a little too wilfully idiosyncratic, it’s also a movie where you can nevertheless witness it’s creator’s creativity flowing untrammelled once mo…

The aliens are not coming, just so you know.

The X-Files 11.1: My Struggle III
(SPOILERS) Good grief. Have things become so terminal for Chris Carter that he has to retcon his own crap from the previous season, rather than the (what he perceived as) crap written by others? Carter, of course, infamously pretended the apocalyptic ending of Millennium Season Two never happened, upset by the path Glen Morgan and James Wong, left to their own devices, took with his baby. Their episode was one of the greats of that often-ho-hum series, so the comedown was all the unkinder as a result. In My Struggle III, at least, Carter’s rewriting something that wasn’t very good in the first place. Only, he replaces it with something that is even worse in the second.

I'm going to open an X-file on this bran muffin.

The X-Files 11.2: This
(SPOILERS) Glen Morgan returns with a really good idea, certainly one with much more potential than his homelessness tract Home Again in Season 10, but seems to give up on its eerier implications, and worse has to bash it round the head to fit the season’s “arc”. Nevertheless, he’s on very comfortable ground with the Mulder-Scully dynamic in This, who get to spend almost the entire episode in each other’s company and might be on the best form here since the show came back, give or take a Darin.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…