Monday, February 27, 2017

Review: Get Out

by Patrick Bromley
Horror movies got woke.

Get Out, the feature writing/directing debut of comedian and actor Jordan Peele, is as exciting a first film as the horror genre has seen in some time. It is supremely confident and exploding with ideas, all while maintaining technical focus and a distinct personal stamp. It is the kind of horror movie that announces a great new voice in the genre and will be mentioned for years to come in conversations about the best and most lasting horror films of the 2000s. It is, to put it short, something special.

I did everything in my power to go into Get Out knowing as little as possible. I didn't watch a trailer or any TV spots. I didn't read a single review. I wasn't even 100% sure of the premise, though I suspect from a line or an image here and there that it is about a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) who is brought home to the family of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) -- a family that includes Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener and Caleb Landry Jones. Where the movie goes from there, I won't say. I would love it if everyone could go in as unspoiled as I was, though even that became difficult once people started seeing the movie and talking about it on social media. Try to see the movie before it gets ruined for you.
Not since The Cabin in the Woods have I seen a horror film that combines huge ideas with an ability to really, really play to its audience. Peele pushes buttons in both form and content -- everything is uncomfortable and nothing feels safe. The screenplay knows how to make every moment count. Even an early jump scare that feels arbitrary and, to be honest, a little cheap (if totally effective) turns out to matter by the end. I'm not surprised Peele knows how to construct a jump scare, as his background in comedy requires an understanding of timing that translates well to certain kinds of horror beats. What impresses me most about Get Out is the way that Peele is able to create mounting dread (I've read comparisons to Rosemary's Baby, which are apt) and demonstrates a flair for the abstract. The movie isn't afraid to get weird. I love that. If the end credits are any indication, it might have been even weirder at one point, as there are credits for creature design and creature puppeteering. I hope we get to see that material some day.

If I'm allowed to find fault in the movie -- and with its 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, maybe I'm not -- it's in two areas. First, the middle act of the movie spins its wheels a little long for my tastes; we are made to feel like something is off again and again, but new information continues to be withheld. It's quite possible that this is by design and I'm just missing the point, as it's also during these middle passages that Peele does such a good job of constructing off-balance moments that -- and please pardon my ignorance and white privilege here -- feel designed to convey what racism feels like. As a middle class, heterosexual white male, I will admit that I haven't personally encountered much major discrimination. To talk about what racism feels like requires me projecting, so if I'm wrong please accept my apologies. But the fact that Peele is able to put that idea in my head is proof that the movie is working -- that he's able to put me and everyone else in the audience for Get Out in the shoes of a man confronted at every turn by a kind of casual, liberal racism.
My other issue with the movie is the character of Rod, Chris's best friend played by comedian Lil Rel Howery. While Rod serves a couple of very important plot functions, his main purpose is to be provide the comic relief -- he diffuses the movie's expertly-ratcheted tension with a couple of funny one-liners. My grievances about the character aren't that he isn't funny, even if he didn't manage to make me laugh much, but rather with the timing of where and when he's used in the movie. There are some moments that, to me, don't need a joke. The tension doesn't need to be broken. To say much more would mean giving away things that I don't want to give away. Again, this is a completely subjective response, as I know he's the bright spot for a lot of people who saw the movie this weekend. Rod just broke a spell that I didn't want broken at a few points.

Like with every new gift we movie fans are given, I'm reminded that we can't have nice things. I had a conversation with someone on Twitter over the weekend who was arguing that Get Out is not a movie about race. This just is not true. His argument was that the Chris character could be played by a white actor and the movie wouldn't change. I can only think this person saw a different movie, as that's like saying the gender of the Kevin character in Moonlight could be made female and it wouldn't change the film. Could the exact same events take place? Maybe, though in the case of Get Out they would no longer make sense. But movies are not about plot. They are about the spaces between, and it's there that Get Out finds its greatness. The movie isn't even particularly subtle about what it has to say about race -- another thing I loved about it -- but I guess because it doesn't paint some of the characters as Confederate flag-waving, Steven Bannon-loving alt-righters, Peele isn't doing enough to condemn racism. Those in denial about what Get Out is saying are the ones who most need Get Out.
It's only been 24 hours since I saw the movie and I'm still buzzing about it, partly because it's exciting to see an artist like Peele, who has received such widespread and well-deserved acclaim and respect in one form, take on another and succeed in such a big way. It's partly because it's a horror movie that, for its opening weekend at least, seems to be uniting critics, genre fans and wider audiences alike. This only means the other shoe is due to drop and the inevitable backlash will begin any minute. More than any of that, though, I'm excited about Get Out because it's the horror movie we both want and need right now. This is an all-timer.

36 comments:

  1. I'll say that what I liked about the stuff with Rod is that in just about any other horror movie they would have come up with a contrived reason why the main character(s) can't contact anybody when things start going bad despite living in an age where we are constantly connected. We didn't get the "I'm not getting any signal out here" scene which I completely appreciate.

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  2. Couldn't agree more with this excellent review. I too went in almost completely blind and was rewarded with an amazing experience. "everything is uncomfortable and nothing feels safe. The screenplay knows how to make every moment count." is exactly how I felt. Not since last years "The Witch" had I felt crippling tension throughout a film. Even the comic relief, which as you know I generally don't respond to, came at the right times for me and I was actually grateful for it. My only nitpicky problems are that I really didn't like the over acting brother and the story he tells about the tongue fell completely flat. Regardless of this, there is no denying that Peele is the real deal. The movie looked amazing, the pacing was perfect for me and the subtle nods (or 1 very not so subtle) to horror films of the past blew me away. I was not only feeling the tension throughout the film, but I was having fun with it as well. Quite an accomplishment.

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    1. I'm glad you liked it so much, Chaybee! I was interested to hear how your experience with it turned out, and I'm happy that it was a positive one. :)

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  3. I think I heard more awkward audience laughter throughout this movie than pretty much anything else I've ever seen.

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  4. This movie was all about race, but not exactly in the way I thought it would be. In the way that had me understanding more about it in the days after seeing it. Mark of a great as far as I'm concerned. People in denial about the themes on display need to read a book and have probably never lived a day in The Sunken Place.

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  5. I haven't heard any backlash, yet, which is crazy. It's a movie that is hard to dislike. I can see someone not loving it but not outright hating it. I don't know if we are ready for unanimously great reviewed horror movie. The cynic in me agrees that it won't last.

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    1. Can't take him for real...He's the Stephen A. Smith (or Skip Bayliss, choose one) of film reviews.

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    2. Not loving it, not hating it, that's my sweet spot. Impressive on technical and aesthetic counts, but underwhelming in narrative and substance. Jordan has great taste, and I'm excited for his next serious feature (which is hopefully more horror.) I'm hoping this is his Cabin Fever, a disappointing bit of betting-too-hard-on-its-concept that precedes his more inventive projects.

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    3. And I want to stand up for Armond White, too! He's a gay, black, conservative film critic who goes against the grain 95% of the time, and while I never take him on his word, just his exaggeratedly outside status and attitude make him worth 20 more mainstream critics to me. :)

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    4. I have to disagree. There are good gay or black or conservative film critics. Armond White deliberately seeks out non-productive argument and condescension only looking to provoke and never enlighten.

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    5. That "or" is the big qualifier there; are there any other prominent critics who are all three? And yeah, Armond's a douchebag contrarian, but I never doubt he that he straight up believes the crazy shit he says. I'll always prefer reading something from someone who genuinely believes Transformers 2 and Jack and Jill are masterpieces, and give a thought out explanation, than fifty reviews all telling me something I already know (like that they're not.)

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    6. I would rather just eschew a critic completely who's that egregiously misguided, especially when they are simply presenting contrary opinions for all the wrong reasons which Armand so clearly is.

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    7. I don't buy that the guy's just a troll. I think a lot of people buy into that because Ebert said he was. But the man's probably a Trump supporter. A gay, black Trump supporter. Does that sound sane to you? Trying to find out whether or not he was, I stumbled on this essay, which does a pretty good job summarizing his value, even though (I think) it's a negative piece. If the reason to dismiss Armond is that he's purposefully, disingenuously antagonizing, go ahead, but I don't think that it's true. He's just a passionate lunatic, and I think more people don't like him because they disagree with him.

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    8. I don't want to claim that he doesn't believe the opinions he puts out, because that's really not for me to say. My issue with White isn't that his opinions seem crazy and indefensible to me; it's that they are so predictable. Like that stupid expression says, even a broken clock is right twice a day. White refuses to even be that -- which isn't to say that agreeing with me makes him "right," but it would be nice for him to surprise us every now and then by being off message. It's hard to take him seriously when he consistently comes out with the EXACT position we all expect.

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    9. A valid argument, which I'd counter by saying most other critics are also guilty of, only in the opposite direction. If that weren't the case, we wouldn't even be able to use the word "contrarian" in describing him. But I'm any case, I don't defend his opinions, or even argue that anyone else should give a shot about him. I'm just glad he exists.

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    10. I feel confident in saying that White is nothing more than a professional troll. It's not just that he has crazy taste, it's that his taste seems completely informed by the consensus of his peers, in an effort to be contrarian. He gave an interview on Slash Film a few years ago, in it he defended his positive review for Transformers 2 by saying that he doesn't consider factors outside the screen. Fine. Then, in the very samend interview, he defends his negative review for 12 Years a Slave by saying that Steve McQueen, a British man, couldn't possibly understand the plight of the American slave, and that no non-American could have directed it. I have no problem with a negative or positive review on any movie (tho it does hurt a bit every time Patrick bashes True Lies), and was actually looking forward to reading a contrarian opinion on Get Out, but White's review was pure nonsense. He is, without a doubt, a well-paid troll.

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    11. I don't hate True Lies! I like a lot of it. I could watch it any time. If it (finally) got released on Blu-ray tomorrow, I would buy it right away. I just think it's James Cameron's weakest movie because it's the one that tries hardest to be funny and Cameron is not a funny guy. Like, at all.

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    12. Sorry Patrick, I was just having a bit of fun. Your stance on True Lies has been well-documented. I do agree that the script is a graveyard of humor, but I do think that Paxton and Tom Arnold do give funny performances. Especially Paxton as the fountain of sleeze that he plays.

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    13. No need to apologize. I just don't want you to think I'm taking every chance to shit talk a movie you like. I agree that it's the best Tom Arnold has been in a movie.

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    14. Has someone not seen The Stupids??!

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  6. I feel like your enjoyment of this movie is somewhat dependent on how much you know going in. I was surprised at how much the trailer have away.

    That said, I liked it. The performances were solid, with the brother (notably during the dinner scene) being the only exception. I thought the film/Jordan had quite a bit to say about gentrification.

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    1. Yup, forgot Rod (who was excellent),it's Caleb Jones that was the only sour point for me. His Heath Ledger Joker performance at the dinner table was not only derivative but just very, very needy. Dial it down, brother, you'll get much better results.

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    2. His performance during the dinner scene was ridiculous. It seemed like he was in an entirely different movie from everyone else.

      The fact that Allison wasn't the worst part of this movie is making me angry.

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  7. Rod was awesome and very funny. Loved that he was actually able to function as piece of the plot as well, rather than just cut-off comic relief. Great movie.

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  8. Get Out is a punk-rock debut of badass awesomeness that also has some of the smartest social commentary I've seen.

    I think one of my favorite things about it is it doesn't protray racism in an extreme or cartoon way. No one says "I hate black people" or anything gross like that. It's subtle almost well meaning racism that even good people could be capable of and not even realize it. I think that's what will make people really think. And of course, I'm speaking of the commentary apart from the horror elements.

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    1. It's interesting you bring that up. There really isn't any out right racism. Sure, all the white people are sick and weird but in the end they all want a black body. I only just saw it last night, so perhaps I'm missing the big message, but it seems to me if you asked a racist white man if he wanted to live the rest of his life as a black man, I have a feeling he'd say no.

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    2. Spoilers

      That's something I wondered too. The movie sets it up that these people are from a part of society that might be racist (at least more than usual), but they want to live inside the bodies of black people.

      I guess they were all people that were handicapped (the blind guy) or were dying of something else (the gardener had the dead grandfather inside him). Maybe it was just easier to kidnap black people. But that wouldn't make them racist? Hmmm. I'm still mulling the movie over in my head.

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    3. Here's one black person's perspective (mine)...

      There is clear racism depicted in the movie, in two respects. First, there is the treatment of Chris by the Armitages and their friends, not as an individual, but as "the shiny, new, black exhibit". It's turned up to eleven in the movie, but this is an actual thing that happens on rare occasion in similar social circumstances. Chris can't just socialize or try to get to know any of these people, or vice versa, as "Chris", or even as "Rose's new boyfriend". He's pigeon-holed into whatever representation of "a black person" the Armitages and their friends see him as. Rose's father feels compelled to tell Chris that he would have voted for Obama for a third term, and he values learning about "other cultures". Rose's brother pontificates on Chris' genetic makeup as a basis for potential fighting prowess. One Armitage female party guest looks Chris up and down with peaked sexual interest and turns to ask Rose in Chris's presence, "Is it true what they say?" At the party, Chris is asked to offer his opinion on whether it's an advantage or disadvantage to be an African-American. Stuff like that.

      Second, there's the sci-fi/fantasy premise of a group of white people in a conspiracy to lure and trap living, unwilling black people, to use their bodies as replacements, effectively ending the lives of those black people, who are never to be seen again by anyone who might be concerned. This is not flattery. This is not respect. The Armitages and their friends are systematically choosing only black victims, whose bodies are enslaved, while what is left of the mind is forced to watch helplessly from the sunken place. This is race-based devaluation of people.

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    4. Sorry, I didn't think very long, and worded that badly (and can't edit).

      Of course the Armitage inhabitants are all racist. Very openly so, which adds to the strangeness and discomfort the protagonist (and us as viewers) feel. I didn't mean to suggest otherwise.

      Now that I think about it, you're spot on with your last paragraph too, in that they are "enslaving" the bodies of the black victims, based on their skin colour. That explains a willingness to inhabit their bodies which is consistent with their racism.

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    5. Good thoughts! That was what I found interesting. It's racism that non-racists can be capable of, and that's what I think will prove thought provoking. No one is going to rethink their words because of the racists in Green Room (still a great movie folks) but they may with Get Out.

      Jordan Peele, just make more movies.

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    6. From what I've read about this movie, well, its just more fuel to stoke the fires of division between people. No I haven't seen it and no I dont think one has to see the movie to get the general idea of what its about. If folks who are not Caucasian were portrayed like the "white" people were in this movie(judging by the trailer) it would be all over the social network scene and probably even the news being labeled racist and lazy, for good reason. Movies like this that play off the angst of others for entertainment purposes and look to make a statement about a serious subject by using a method akin to a thumb to the eye, a stomp on the foot, and a "There, I told you" holler I triumph is something much different than the brilliance that it is being portrayed as being when its not. That is just an opinion though.

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  9. I'm halfway through and loving it right now, I've avoided spoilers and I can't wait to see where this goes. I just had one of the biggest laughs from a film this year. The part during the party when the guys says, 'he just informed me that he his much more comfortable that I'm here.' I'm still chuckling over it. I love it so far.

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  10. Wow, this one really lived up to the hype. A friend of mine was complaining about the ending to me and I don't see what the fuss is all about. I thought the ending was intense and fitting. I've noticed a trend lately with people not liking movies that end so abruptly. People have become really needy when it comes to their movies. They need all the loose ends tied up and for things to end on a good note. Not really the same type of film but Manchester By the Sea had an ending that my friends didn't like and complained about as well. I loved that film and it's ending so much because to me it was saying that sometimes in life we don't always get a happy ending. Sometimes bad things happen and we have to find a way to get through it and deal with it and that we all have our own ways of going about it. Anyways, 'Get Out' was brilliant, it felt really fresh and smart. I just realized that we really don't see a black protagonist in horror very often.

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