Monday, 20 March 2017

Review: Get Out

Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Screenplay: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield and Catherine Keener

Synopsis is here:

Note: Get Out is a film that is best seen stone cold. I’ve tried not to talk too much about the plot of the film as to avoid spoilers, however, this review may have enough in it to hint at certain elements.

An ex-work colleague was once talking to a group of us about how they felt uncomfortable when travelling to Southall, a suburb of London with a high Islamic Asian demographic. They were quick to note that they had nothing against Muslims mind. They just felt uncomfortable around that suburb as that was "their neighbourhood". One must laugh when hearing things like this. When you're a POC in England, dependant on where you are, you are almost constantly surrounded by white people. You cannot say that you feel uncomfortable around them. It’s just not cricket. Although technically, going by the standards set by my colleague, I should feel uncomfortable from when I get up in the morning until I go to sleep.

This is often the underlying issue when we look and talk about race. It's Farage feeling uncomfortable about not hearing English being spoken on the tube. It's Camilla Long dictating to (mostly white) readers that Moonlight was written for especially white people to feel a certain way, despite being created from a black person's own personal experiences. It's Piers Morgan trolling on the word Nigger. Everything is always seen through the prism of whiteness, which is of course considered what you should call normal. Another example of this? A swimming teacher telling my father that my genetic make-up dictates my swimming prowess. Another would be a previous ex-girlfriends mother always skirting around what to say to me as her daughter had never brought home a black boyfriend. Often me and my friends and family nod and smile about certain "white" tics that occur around us. There's still the belief, even with the more liberal amongst us, that we are somewhat different in our makeup. An element of the exotic and otherness that compels and discomforts people. It could be Ebonics, it could be athleticism (see the shit Serena Williams deals with). There is always SOMETHING.

That something is what is what Jordan Peele candidly deals with his directorial debut Get Out, a dryly amusing and deeply disconcerting horror comedy that has been noted as an updated take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), in which Chris (Daniel Kaluuya); a young black photographer, visits the mysterious estate of his girlfriends (Alison Williams) family to terrifying results. Get Out gleefully riffs on Stanley Kramer’s wonderfully composed social commentary with a tongue firmly implanted in its cheek. Peele’s film grabs hold of something that I had wished the likes of Neil LaBute's remake of The Wicker Man (2006) had been more interested in. Get Out timely exploration of racial framing is not only relevant but blazingly incisive. It would be too easy to make the villains of this piece the type of overtly hostile, backwards evildoers that littered Red State (2011). With Get Out, Peele isn’t afraid to expose that not only the racial inequities that inhabit the veins of western civilisation run deep. They can also be well hidden in the blood of those that people who call themselves allies.

Get Out is not a typical horror film in that we are overload with abject viscera and telegraphed jump scares. Jordan Peele is far more interested in creating an atmosphere similar to the likes of The Twilight Zone or even Black Mirror. This is done with the adeptly crafted screenplay which utilises its main conceit with a dark wit and an affecting sense of truth. Unlike so many horror films which often deal with white suburban fear, Get Out revels in the perversity of treading lightly in white spaces while black. Not since Halloween (1978) has a horror film played so subversively with the uniformity of suburbia. It’s a film which pulls no punches with this theme starting from the first frame, which arouses the fateful tragedies of Trayvon Martin, to a subtly chilling encounter with a policeman that may feel all too familiar to a black male. Nothing is taken to chance here. When we observe the scene with the police officer, note that the actor cast holds a resemblance to ex-officer Darren Wilson. I’ve watched this sequence twice now at the time of writing. I still marvel at how tightly crafted the dynamics of power play out. Believe me when I say this. When you watch it again, you see something different a second time. Let’s just say, in situations like that, we’re often not just scared of the officer.

This is a film which indulges itself in the power plays that occur when it comes to race relations. The film is clearly satirical and makes sure we are aware of it, but it knows how to strike a nerve with the audience it’s catering to. So much of the film nods knowingly to the painful awkwardness of being the only minority in a crowded white room. From the supposed well-intentioned gestures that carry soft offences to the outright obnoxiousness that people feel that they can spout because of the colour of your skin. Peele’s film neatly taps into the fear that many people of colour hold.  That by merely existing, you stand out more. By being a minority, your feelings should come second to a white person’s desires. The master stroke of Get Out is to suggest that it’s within more liberal whites that the most insidious racism occurs. But how could that be? They’re on your side, right? What makes Get Out so engaging is how it toys with ideas of white privilege. It’s not just enough to occupy wealth and opportunity, but even if you are the white elite, it may just be easier to own the black existence, just because you like it.

To say anymore may be telling, in fact, I may have already said too much. However, it’s safe to say that Peels film plays out like a race-themed version of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973). Its densely-packed screenplay captures the sense of paranoia and helpless that many feel when operating with certain spaces and each scene adds another layer of commentary and creepiness to proceedings. The film’s crowning achievement, a painfully awkward, remarkably on point house party sequence is one that resonates with me from a deeply personal standpoint. It’s a scene that plays out as if it knew me. Every conversation that takes place, every micro-aggression which gets thrown towards Chris (a superlative Kaluuya) feels as if it’s been lifted from situations I’ve been involved in. As exaggerated as the film is (and it is exaggerated), this one sequence, amongst others, holds a candour that’s difficult to shake off the shoulders.

Peele; an attentive sketch writer in his own right manages to balance this with a spiky sense of gallows humour. The film’s funny because it’s true. It’s also terrifying for the same reasons. It’s a film that’s clearly cine-literate. Name-checking the likes of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist 3 (1990), and Night of the Living Dead (1960) and The Stepford Wives (1975), but not letting its references get in the way of the message of benevolent racism.  It is rounded off by an expertly picked cast who are all allowed to play to their strengths. Special credit should go the likes of Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel and LaKeith Stanfield who steal scenes from under the noses of the principle cast with the type of nuance one doesn’t expect from a film which operates under B-Movie mechanics.

If there are any flaws with the movie, it would be with its final third, in which the action shifts from the wry observations of the first two acts into more notable horror film fare. While Get Out still manages to keep a couple of tricks up its sleeve, it travels down the route of many films of its type. Mostly because it’s difficult to see if it could go anywhere else with the material. This shouldn’t detract that Get Out is operating at a higher level than most horror movies. It’s a film in which it’s motifs have already appeared to have penetrated the zeitgeist. This no mean feat, but Peele’s film comes from a place well known to many who will watch it. It will not change the minds of bigots, but that’s not the point. There are moments in this film which struck a chord in me (possibly many others) in a way that other films will not. The beauty of Get Out is that finally in 2017 we get an intelligent genre piece that people of colour can really call their own. The pain of Get Out is that it’s 2017 and we still have to acknowledge it’s truisms.