Saturday, 13 May 2017

Movie Review: Get Out (2017)



This is one of the highest-rated films of the last few years, hyped beyond all rational limits, to the point where any showing of dissent and differing opinion is met with vitriolic overreaction. Yeah, Armond White acted like an entitled douchebag in response to criticism of his own criticism, but that was in response to people losing their minds because the guy they all expected to think differently than them on what they love did exactly that. Hell, I’m actually thankful for his negative opinion because I can’t be the only one who is somewhat confronted whenever I see 100% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes; it makes me feel like I’m being pressured into liking something, and the reactions to White’s comments only solidify that fear. You might be wondering why I’m even bothering to address any of this. Well, since it seems to be a yearly tradition that there’s at least one film that generates just plain stupid behaviour from moviegoers, I figure it was at least worth mentioning. That, and it should bring some levity to what is ultimately a very, very confronting feature. This is Get Out.

The plot: Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is going to his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams)’s parent’s house for the weekend. While initially worried, since this will be his first time meeting them, his worries only seem to get bigger once he notices that something is definitely off about them. However, as he finds out more about the deeper secrets that Rose’s family is holding, he may not make it out alive to tell anyone.

The acting marks a new frontier when it comes to things I generally make a habit of discussing in my reviews because, while all the performances are incredible in their own rights, there’s something else at work here that’s worthy of note. Acting in horror films (the good ones, at least) mainly centres on being able to convey genuine-feeling reactions to the aforementioned horror going on around them. However, this is the first time in way too long where the acting itself is channelling that sense of pure horror. The actors are definitely cast well, from Kaluuya as the reluctant witness to the chaos to the non-even-hiding-their-prejudice attitudes of Rose’s mother, father and brother (the brother is played by Caleb Landry Jones in scene-stealing form once again) to the eerily robotic and empty house servants, performed brilliantly by Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson, but it reaches the realm of truly amazing when it comes to just how empty the performances can get. This is some true Body Snatchers-type shit going on, creating this impermeable sense of dread in pretty much every scene. The definite highlight would have to be a scene where a character is talking on the phone with someone else (no names, because for once, I don’t want to incur spoilers) and, even though their voice shows a lot of wavering panic, their face is completely blank and emotionless. No joke, few things I have ever seen on screen have made me feel more unsettled than that did.

And while I’m on the subject of things that make the audience uneasy, as a horror film, this can hold its own alongside the greatest works in the genre. It’s not just the fact that it is scary, which it certainly is, but rather the fact it is as confronting and uncomfortable as it is that makes it scary. The film focuses a lot on hypnosis and the power of suggestion, lulling people into a place of susceptibility before administering their own agenda, and Jordon Peele’s approach to horror is much the same. Through Peele’s very in-your-face approach to story, composer Michael Abels’ music that creeps under the skin to bring the bumps to the surface and DOP Toby Oliver’s up-close and personal framing, this is the kind of film that almost forces you to be unnerved. It sets a tone where there is definitely something wrong with what we are seeing, lulling the audience into a state where they are expecting something wrong to be going on, and then BANG! The shock hits the audience square in the jaw, then the process begins all over again for the next jump. Not to say that this film is all jump scares though; just that the atmosphere established by the filmmakers is that thick and pervasive that, when major plot points come into the foreground, they hit that much harder because of the tone that the film manages to sustain for its entire running time. Even for the masters of the craft, that's a difficult task to pull off well.

This film has been marketed as a horror-comedy, and given Peele’s experience in more comedic works, that makes at least some sense. However, I can’t help but feel that that descriptor is somewhat deceptive in terms of giving an idea of what the film will be like. Peele’s character as Chris' best friend is probably the only real ‘comedy’ thing about the film, essentially serving as a means for Peele himself to comment on the action and set up some scenes that help bring home the film’s overall intent. Sure, his quips are actually pretty funny in their own right, but calling the film a comedy based on him alone is a bit much. Comedy-horror films, no matter what era they’re made in, usually exist in a realm where the laughs end up outweighing the scares; some films like Shaun Of The Dead manage to balance the two quite well but, for the most part, these films end up fixating on one far more than the other and since comedy is easier to digest, that’s where most filmmakers lean towards. That said, this film definitely reaches areas of comedy purely through its means of delivering that creeping atmosphere. The blank expressions and genuine discomfort brought forward in certain scenes get some laughs but mainly just as a means for the audience to alleviate the tension with a nervous giggle. Of course, scares and laughs operate on the same emotional wave length in how they are means for the audience to channel sudden emotions, so maybe that was the point.

Now to dig into the big talking point of the film: Race. Notions of racial attitudes and horror films have always seemed to be at odds with each other; one of the biggest clich├ęs of the genre is that the black guy never lives long enough to see the end credits. However, rather than directly commenting on such things, this film’s ambitions appear to be a lot bigger and a lot more thought-out than simple genre commentary. Throughout the film, along with the general unease caused by the production, there’s also the expected unease caused by the predominant whiteness of the film’s main setting. Not only that, it’s peppered with showings of tokenism: Endorsements for Obama, parading around a few black people to give a veneer of where their allegiances are at, admiring black people far more for their superficial physical attributes than their actual agency as living things, etc. The film is very direct with its depiction of its own understanding of racial tensions and politics, showing it as being a psychological notion that digs itself deep into people’s mindsets to the point where it stops being a personal attitude and becomes something of a ‘tradition’.

Looking back at Armond White’s arguments for a second, the typically very politically-conscious critic viewed this as an attack on white people due to how the film climaxes. Frankly, that’s kind of the point. This isn’t the sort of film meant to gently nudge people and talk to them calmly about how it sees the world and what is wrong with it. This is full-on John Doe “you have to hit them with a sledgehammer” kind of commentary that, much like with the horror elements, is meant to make people as uncomfortable as possible. It is uncompromising in how it alludes to the vile attitudes and mindsets behind modern-day race relations, taken to potentially silly extremes once we discover the ultimate agenda at work (something that the film itself seems to be aware of to some extent), to highlight racism as a very mentally-ingrained practice that is very difficult, sometimes impossible, to internally overcome. With how racism continues to be a hot-button issue (and rightfully so) and predominantly white commentators keep quipping about the situation in a way that is ultimately self-serving and doing little to practically aid in the problem, these points need to be reiterated since there are so many out there who still haven’t gotten the goddamn point yet.

All in all, even without the laboured-over racial commentary and salience when it comes to identifying what are the biggest contributors to it, this stands out perfectly well on its own as an excellent horror film. The acting is among some of the best I’ve seen in this genre when it comes to channelling teeth-rattling chills, the music provides the perfect foundation for the film’s scares to shine through (the opening sequence with Run Rabbit Run sets a good precedent for how sonically gripping the film can get), the writing may not be as funny as its buzz may depict it as but it doesn’t need to when it’s this sharp, and as far as direction goes, Jordon Peele has made one hell of a debut with this one. No joke, even the font choice for the opening credits shows a dedication to atmosphere and tone that few filmmakers today seem to possess; when the effort on display is that intricate, I have no doubt that this is what all other horror films this year will have to measure up to. It’s better than T2: Trainspotting, as the acting and overall finesse in the production highlights this as its own blueprint on how to deliver scares; T2 may hold up as a definitive sequel, but this manages well enough as a truly definitive horror film. Although, to be fair, the original Trainspotting did the whole “sink into the floor” routine before it was cool. However, for as poignant as this film can get with its commentary, it still doesn’t measure up to what I see as the bona fide necessary points made by Silence. Maybe that’s because this is coming from the perspective of a white suburban kid, but religious extremism is something I am personally more wary of in the real world.

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