Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Fleapit revisited:Get Out.

The description of Jordan Peele's Get Out as a 'comedy horror film' doesn't really do it justice. There's not that many laughs and the few that do come are very much not of the slapstick nature. More the comedy of cringe you'll be familiar with from the likes of The Office or Alan Partridge. Partridge and Brent's awkward handling of people from different backgrounds to them drove the unease that underpinned those shows. Peele's film exponentially ramps up the disquietude by providing us with a whole extended family of sycophants and barely concealed racists.

Black photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is living in New York with his white girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). This modern, attractive, metropolitan couple are preparing for a visit to her parents in an unspecified, though possibly Southern, part of the country. Chris is uneasy because Rose hasn't told her parents he's black. She assures him it's fine, they're not racists, and her dad Dean would've voted Obama in for a third term if at all possible.

It's a theme that runs through the film as Dean, his family, and their friends recall anecdotes about Tiger Woods and Jesse Owens. It becomes apparent that Chris is being viewed more as a curio than as a person. Dean (Bradley Whitford) always seems to be trying too hard and his wife Missy (Catherine Keener) seems more concerned with the fact Chris is a smoker than anything else. She wants to use her hypnotherapy to cure him but he's not keen on the idea, a little freaked out by it.

He's even more freaked out by the revelation that the family have a couple of black servants on the retainer. Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson) are explained away by Dean as people he'd employed to look after his own father in his dotage that the Armitages have kept on out of their own good nature. But there's something about the starchy, slightly odd, way that Walter and Georgina behave that spooks Chris out.

Rose's brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) isn't the most comfortable guy to be around either. He's drunk and unpleasant whilst nursing an obsession with Chris's genetic make-up. Blind art dealer Jim Hudson (Stephen Root), another family friend that Chris meets during an annual get together, seems to have the measure of the rest of them but his meeting with Logan King (LaKeith Stanfield), the sole other guest of colour at the soiree, doesn't end well. Logan's conversation is awkward and stilted.

As things, at first gradually, and then rapidly, descend from bad to worse Peele uses Chris's friend, and dog sitter, Rodney Williams (Lil Red Howery) to create a nifty plot device. In the phone calls between Chris and Rodney both their concerns, and a lot of the exposition, are unclunkily laid out for the audience.

It's a tightly scripted, tautly plotted film that nods its head in the direction of Jonathan Glazer's fantastic and unsettling Under the Skin a couple of times. It throws up a couple of major twists and turns along the way. It makes good use of some classic horror tropes (people appear at windows, Michael Abels' jumpy score, and that old classic of waking up from a nightmare covered in sweat) but it uses them not only to frighten us and make us feel uncomfortable but to speak some truth about racial identity and power politics. In places it could almost be a parable of American history itself.

Kaluuya and Williams are both excellent and instantly believable as a couple, Whitford gets creepier with each passing scene, Landy Jones appears born to the role of Jeremy, and Howery gets all the properly funny lines back in New York. What's happening back at the Armitage house really isn't amusing at all. It's pretty violent in places, there's a fair bit of blood, but compared to most horror films it's fairly tame by those parameters.

On skilfully skewering the stark racial tensions still at play in America, and elsewhere, today it's something of a masterclass. Made as a piece of agit-prop it'd have played to half the audience and had a quarter the effect. Peele has made a horror film but he's also hidden a fantastic piece of social satire underneath it. That's where this film excels. You'll squirm in your seat and not just for the reasons you might expect.

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