Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Film Review - Get Out (12A)

It's all good, right?
Get Out is a striking horror/thriller and the directorial debut of actor and writer Jordan Peele. It's also as provocative a social satire as you're likely to see in 2017. While the film is rooted in a well-established genre and plays to all the horror tropes you'd expect, it also tackles issues of race and cultural insensitivity with the force of a quarterback. 
Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a young freelance photographer about to venture to Alabama to meet his white girlfriend's parents for the first time. They're liberal-minded, she assures him, fans of Barack Obama, who'll be more than cool regarding their daughter's black boyfriend. So it seems, with a parental welcome almost over-the-top in its enthusiasm. But something feels off-kilter from the start, not least the curiously vacant expressions of this privileged white couple's African-American groundsman and housemaid. Chris's initial reservations gradually intensify into out-and-out paranoia as the weekend progresses. Something, although he can't quite identify its exact nature, is very wrong here indeed.
The most impressive aspect of Get Out is the extent to which it refreshes and has (decidedly wicked) fun with the horror cliches on which it is built. Even the title references the advice audiences have been giving to hapless horror protagonists for decades - Don't stand there gawping, just get out! 
From the unexpected choice of music in the film's memorable opening sequences everything seems a little bit disconcerting, a little bit off. The central interracial relationship is warm and reassuring, but every other aspect - performances, soundscape, camerawork - strikes a dissonant note, and the cumulative effect has you cringing in your seat. Tension is built up with well-paced craft, so that the occasional jump-scares do what they're meant to. They scare, you jump. Cinema-going strangers then look around at each other to acknowledge Yes, it's okay - that scared the crap out of me too. You've got to love it when a film succeeds on that level.

The central horror conceit of the movie takes some selling - this story starts off like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner but hits Stepford Wives territory before too long - and a host of good performances are key. Kaluuya is a strong lead (you may recognise him from one of numerous British TV appearances), his determinedly-polite-boyfriend routine gradually fraying as he grasps the bizarre nature of his situation. Allison Williams is sympathetic too as his fiercely loyal girlfriend, while Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener will creep you out from the get-go as her smiling parents. Neither is quite as creepy, though, as Walter and Georgina, the zombie-esque household servants. 
There's also welcome comic relief in the form of Chris's best buddy Rob (comedian LilRel Howery), whose end-of-phone-line presence is infectiously funny. Rather than detract from the film's menace, however, it serves as a real-world reminder of how messed up Chris's claustrophobic situation really is. Our likeable hero really ought to get packing.
The theme of racism and how it manifests itself in modern American culture (and no doubt beyond) is served well here throughout. Nor are any punches pulled in the movie's insane latter stages; this is a story that dares to push its audience's buttons and to challenge their preconceptions. It's also a big old-fashioned crowd-pleaser, crafted to have that same audience gasping, laughing and clutching their arm-rests from one moment to the next. It's an assured debut from Peele - a writer with much to say and, it turns out, the directorial nous to say it with style. Expect to hear from him again, and don't expect it to be comfortable.

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