Film of the week: Get Out

GetOut_Chair_UK

I have no great affection for the horror genre overall. That is to say if I hear a film is good and it happens to be a horror, I’ll go and watch that bad boy. Though I wouldn’t actively seek such films out over, say a crime drama.

I often think I might be missing a trick. Historically many horror films have been very innovative. Just from a technical level, the likes of Sam Raimi (Evil Dead) and Roman Polanski (Repulsion) used camera trickery and live action effects to overcome budget constraints, both to great effect.

Unfortunately, though I think I have been desensitized to the gore by overused tropes and hammy acting. That is a sweeping statement I’m sure I’ll live to regret but I’ll digress.

…Why did I make an exception here? Well, word of mouth really.

This was selected as the secret film at the ADIFF recently and from what I could tell afterward, it really went down well with the audience that afternoon.

I overheard mention of liberal revenge and sharp irony and couldn’t resist. It’s very rare for a horror film to aim as high as wanting to make a political statement so I had to see for myself.

The film opens in a moonlit suburbia scene all too familiar to young black men. That it’s handled with such a deft touch as Peele manages here offers great hope for what’s to follow.

We are then introduced to the main players with Chris( Daniel Kaluuya) about to visit his girlfriend’s (Rose: played by Alison Williams) in-laws for the first time. The thought of that might be scary enough for some and it certainly makes Chris wonder what awaits him. By now it’s obvious that Chris is black. If you have missed the point he will remind you. His GF doesn’t think it matters but Chris remains uncertain. We also learn that he is currently trying to quit cigarettes. Concentrate, there will be a test later. Rose tries to assure him that his dad will be over friendly if anything(and that he would have voted for Obama 3 times if it were possible)

They set off on their journey in a well marked red Lincoln. Red for Danger? Lincoln for America? Or is it too paranoid to wonder these things? Already I’m on edge as I watch! When Chris’s friend (Rod: played brilliantly by LiRel Howery)  calls him on the cell phone there is playful chit chat as well as mild flirting with Rose. Just as this ends, a reindeer jumps out straight in front of the vehicle. Damage is done to the car but thankfully not the passengers. A policeman arrives and can’t help but racially profile. Chris is a lot more accepting about this than the Rose. They continue their journey to the house.

I realise this is perhaps an overly descriptive account of events. And that to continue down this path would render your viewing of the film quite redundant. But I felt it important to show how normal the set-up is here.

This could easily still turn out to be a black(sic) comedy or the type of earnest Oscar bait well-meaning drama that Hollywood is convinced we all adore. All in all, it’s a gamble to play it out like this. But when you reach the end some 90 minutes later, all of these pieces of string have been neatly tidied up in a bow.

Director and writer Jordan Peele manages to gently tweak the tension slightly. We see the dad as a harmless, perhaps overtly liberal white apologist. Then the roguish son Jeremy, a kind of Heath Ledger( Monster’s Ball era), Calvin Candie hybrid who fails to hide his contempt as well as the rest of the family.

But where do I go from here in this review? Do I continue down the path of telling you the whole plot? I don’t think that would anyone any good.

Peele has created a situation that would be familiar to many living in L.A. The uneasy question of how rich white people still view black people. The question here doesn’t carry the same sledge-hammer style introspection seen in Crash( a film that decides to answer everything for you anyway, whether you like it or not) but more of the uncomfortable grey area variety.

There is one such scene that I didn’t give too much thought to. At least until I read a review after seeing it. The reviewer had expressed doubts about the relevancy of the gardener sprinting around at night time. At the time of watching I did wonder that myself. It was certainly worthy of a horror film in its framing alone. An ominous figure emerging from the shadows and hurtling towards Chris at great speed.

Then I began to think. What if this was a call back to the earlier comment from Jeremy? He had launched into a slow burning rant at the dinner table, talking about the black man being a superior athlete because of simple genetics. He had then insisted on a playful grapple with our Chris, before getting reined in by his parents.

That the son was a bigot was not in question. But there are a great many people in the world who genuinely believe that athletes of African American origin do have a genetic advantage in sports. Personally, I can’t consolidate the fact that while a white man hasn’t won the 100m at the Olympics since the 1980s, for every Usain Bolt, there’s a Daniel Sturridge just waiting to collapse in a heap. You can’t just assume a person is a superior specimen because of the colour of their skin, yet so many people do.

Point being the film is ratcheting up the tension by asking the audience these uncomfortable questions. But not dwelling on them long enough for it to become preachy. Before we know it we’re once again been creeped out by the behavior of the housekeeper, seemingly overindulged to the point that Rose’s parents can’t bring themselves to fire her.

Again, I’m trailing off slightly. I just really liked this film. For a number of reasons. Perhaps though, the most praise should fall to Catherine Keener.

I don’t think I’ve ever not enjoyed her. She’s basically acting the way Meryl Streep used to before the great Dame started getting bored. These characters she creates are so subtle, so brilliantly devised. Keener must surely study people for hours to get this kind of nuance.

But aside from that, I was thoroughly entertained for the two hours. That Hollywood is seemingly obsessed with white heroes shows an ideology at odds with the modern world. And there is little doubt that people are turning their backs on these stereotypes. Box office takings are down year on year and while television can take a fair share of responsibility, there is little doubt that the big studios are not keeping up with the times.

I think it’s pretty sad that Get Out can be seen as groundbreaking in 2017. That it has to be even seen as such. There have been hundreds of films over the last 40 odd years, which could be considered black cultural artifacts. But perhaps they too have fallen into the trap of stereotyping and small mindedness.

The great trick of this film is in its charm and ability to make some rich white folk admit they’re not cool, not ready and still want things their own way.

All that from a comedy horror? Yes, but if I try to explain anymore I’ll give away the fun bits!

 

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