Last of the Monster Kids

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Friday, February 9, 2018

OSCARS 2018: Get Out (2017)

(Around last summer, buzz starting to build that Jordan Peele's "Get Out" might be an Oscar contender. Despite the film being a runaway critical and commercial success, I still thought the odds of a February-released, honest-to-gawd horror movie getting nominated for Best Picture was unlikely. For that reason, and also because it was one of the year's most talked about genre films, I reviewed the film during last year's Halloween Horror-fest Blog-a-thon. Since I was super-duper wrong, and the film has gotten a bunch of Oscar nominations, I've decided to dig that review out and re-post it. Mostly because I really want all the Best Picture nominees covered this year and also because I'm lazy. So here's a blast from the very recent past, namely last October.)

I'm a strong believer that horror, as a genre, has always existed to exercise cultural fears and anxieties. Too often, audiences and filmmakers alike have forgotten this. I've never seen a whole episode of “Key & Peele,” though the segments I have seen have been really funny. Jordan Peele, who is apparently a big horror fan, certainly hasn't forgotten that horror and social commentary go hand-in-hand. He made a boldly political genre film with “Get Out.” The film would connect with audiences, becoming a huge hit earlier in the year. I probably should've seen the movie before now but it's not uncommon for me to fall behind new releases. As one of the most talked about horror films of the year, October seems to be the right month to finally watch this.

Chris Washington, a black man, has been dating Rose Armitage, a white woman, for four months. The relationship has gotten serious enough that Rose's parents have invited the couple to visit their home for a few days. Rose's parents try to make Chris feel welcomed. However, he begins to suspect something is wrong. The maid and groundskeeper are both black. Moreover, both of them act extremely strangely. At a party the next night, Chris meets another black man who also acts very odd. Soon, he begins to suspect there is a local conspiracy targeting African-Americans. What he discovers is even more horrifying than he could have guessed.

Being a black man in America is already scary. Peele need only exaggerate things a little. “Get Out” builds upon the awkwardness of being black in a white community. (And America is, in many ways, one big white community.) When Chris first meets Rose's parents, they attempt to establish kinship by mentioning black athletes or Obama. Rose's brother asks about Chris' genetic make-up. While at a big party, Chris is at the center of more awkward interactions. People asking about his sex life, feeling him up like he's a commodity, giving their own undercooked opinions. Even before outwardly creepy things happen, Peele lays hints that something is wrong. Rose's father talks about exterminating deer in a weirdly racial way. He makes a reference to wiping out “black” mold. It's not the obvious racism Peele is criticizing but the subtle kind, the type most white people probably aren't even aware of. Fittingly, when the motivation behind the villain's scheme is revealed, they deny race plays any role in it at all. I'm a pasty white guy but it seems to be that Peele is saying that black people live in a culture where they are constantly under attack or on display. “Get Out's” horror content grows out of this real world anxiety.

“Get Out” isn't just a potent political allegory. It's also a really effective horror movie. The score mixes Swahili chanting with discordant, shrieking strings to create an unnerving mood early on. The black workers on the Armitage property act in very strange ways. Their uncanny appearance and behavior is also unsettling. This leads up to more intense moments, such as when Chris stumbles upon one of the workers running around the yard at night. Or another black man momentarily lapsing out of his hypnotized state. All of this is preparation for “Get Out's” descent into full-blown surreal horror. The appearance of the Sunken Place – which became something of an internet meme earlier in the year – is a startling and original visual. Smartly, Peele also contrasts his horrific scenes with comedic ones. The scenes revolving around Chris' friend, Rod, are frequently hilarious.

Another reason “Get Out's” big box office was so surprising was its lack of any marquee names. The film stars Daniel Kaluuya, an obscure character actor best known for British television. Kaluuya as Chris, perfectly playing the character as a normal guy caught up in something bizarre while, simultaneously, giving him plenty of distinct characteristics. As Rose's parents, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are especially chilling. Whitford's glad-handing ways effectively mask a darker intention. Keener, meanwhile, impressively projects an unnerving sense of authority. Caleb Landry Jones has no time for subtly as Jeremy, Rose's brother, who is outwardly creepy in a very obvious – but no doubt effective – way. Stephen Root puts in a supporting appearance as Jim Hudson, making the blind character both sympathetic and off-putting. And, once again, I must point out hilarious Lil Rel Howery is in his few scenes, making pretty much everything that comes out of Rod's mouth funny.

If horror is a vehicle for political commentary, it's also a genre built upon catharsis. The actual details of the strange things going on in the Armitage house are not especially novel. It's the kind of story we've seen play out in other horror pictures. Honestly, considering how original “Get Out's” brand of horror had been up to that point, the reveal is a little disappointing. What it sets up, though, makes it worth it. The film almost shifts into an action film at the end. Antlers – in another move that aligns Chris with deer – are put to good use. The repressed get righteous revenge on their tormentors. It plays out gory and incredibly satisfying fashion. Peele originally envisioned “Get Out” with a much darker ending. That ending, perhaps, would've made more sense. However, the more up-beat ending was the right decision. “Get Out” ends on a note of triumph, not defeat. Given the story's obvious sociological element, it's well earned.

Due to the movie's success, Peele has already been offered at least one big blockbuster project. However, it seems the director is more interested in focusing on smaller films. He's promised that “Get Out” is the first of what he hopes is many politically engaged horror picture. I hope they are all as exciting, creepy, and well executed as this one. “Get Out” really is as good as I had read, a horror film with something vital to say without sacrificing its status as an effectively chilling motion picture. [9/10]

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