Sunday, March 12, 2017

Get Out (2017)

You know, in these times, it's almost standard procedure to dismiss or pay no substantial heed to any viral image, perspective, or word-of-mouth on the Internet. Given society's penchant to stigmatize online content, as well as demean the millennials that produce their popularity by labeling them as superficial, entitled, impatient leeches (thanks for the empowering words, society), viral hits or predominant opinions expressed via online media are often deemed facile, futile, and/or bearing little weight. Sure, its power has been demonstrated and it can be taken into account, but there still seems to be overarching, holier-than-thou attitude to quarantine the viral Internet culture and deem it frilly. It seems as if popular opinion and Internet opinion are never seen as veritably amalgamous.

Not so with Get Out. The audience I saw this with was enraptured and enthralled. Every other person I talked to that saw it appreciated it tremendously. Online reviewers and Facebook posts have demonstrated their astonishment and advocacy. Critics ravenously accepted it, given the four-day achievement of a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes (down one point, thanks to Internet poltergeist, Armond White). Horror films are already seen as calculated and simplistic, so to find one that is not merely universal, but so vocally, expressively universal is basically an anomaly. And all of it is rightfully earned. If Don't Breathe was a breath of fresh air for the horror genre (that pun never gets old), Get Out is an aggressive, furious, ardent push to not just the horror genre, but its participants, exhorting them to step up their game.

The film centers on a couple, Chris and Rose, getting prepared to go off to Rose's family's house. Rose is white, Chris is black. While Chris is reticent of introducing himself to her white family, Rose ascertains him a joyous, non-strenuous time. However, as they arrive, the atmosphere is strange. The behavior of the family is rather eccentric and askew. What's odder is the behavior of the black people that reside there: a groundskeeper and a servant. It is slowly, but surely revealed that there is more to the family than meets the eye. Can Chris escape unscathed? And what can Rose do to help, if anything?

This film is a horror film, but for a considerable period of time, it dares you to label it definitely as such. The film is all parts traditional horror, psychological horror, and social commentary. The surprising brilliance of the film is that it doesn't try to integrate them concurrently, rather letting each facet operate independently, yet contextually, thematically unified in a cohesive whole. Its transitions are delivered totally and competently, mounting to one of the most exhilarating, rousing, and satisfying climaxes I've seen in a horror film in quite some time.

One admirable aspect of the film is its use of imagery and symbolism. During the opening of the film, Rose hits a deer on the way to the family's house. Afterwards, they arrive at the house, expound and elaborate on the incident, and Rose's father replies by describing them as rats, claiming that he'd mar any and every one of them if he had the chance. Deer are large, bold animals that are consistently being hunted, similarly to how it is said and shown that black people are being hunted and mauled with as little remorse and consideration as when deer are killed. However, while that example can be seen as rather patent, what about an example involving a stuffed lion? Chris' first formidable experience begins at the first night at the house in the middle of the night, during which he wakes up and turns a stuffed lion on the nightstand next to him in a direction away from him. After this, he roams about the house, has an unusual encounter with the groundskeeper and servant, and receives a terrifying hynopsis from Rose's mother.

Lions are seen as aggressive, primordially violent, and dangerous creatures that have to be tamed, just like similar stereotypes unfortunately targeted at African-Americans. In the viewpoint of certain members of white America, black people are animals that have to be controlled and repressed. However, stuffed animals are typically seen as adorable, positive mementos. Not all lions represent violence, in the same way that not all black people are inherently violent. The stuffed lion can be interpreted both as a call for open-mindedness and a warning of imminent danger that has gone unacknowledged.

Or how symbolism is utilized via a hit-and-run incident that killed Chris' mother when he was a child? That specifically can be affiliated to, in my opinion, the primary theme of the film: black consciousness, or "being woke." As Chris explains, his mother died outside his home and he did nothing but watch television. He inadvertently ignored the issue at hand. The black denizens of the Armitage household are uncomfortably obsequious and tragically accepting of their societal, or at least situational, role. In the eyes of the film, ignoring or accepting the presence of an issue does nothing but hinder, suppress, and debase change. Even if your mind is rowdy, the external silence is all that is expressed. Those who don't demand change are more malignant than those who misuse their power in the name of change. The All Lives Matter movement is more destructive than the Black Lives Matter movement could ever be. 

Furthermore, the thematic element of consciousness is perfectly utilized through the usage of a blind artist, Jim Hudson. He, a blind man, is more cognizant and observant of ignorance and the imperativeness of self-awareness and action than the sundry of white guests with perfect vision and are tragically, comically unaware of their own agonizing, awkward stupidity. However, he later pleads and wishes for Chris' eyes, nullifying his blindness and ostensibly his current state of thought. Even though he perfectly acknowledges the injustices and the plights of black people, he still can't evade his subterranean desire to abandon his way of thinking in lieu of simplistic self-sheltering. It's easier, in his mind, to be oblivious of another man's privations because he has more to gain that way. The aspect of aspiring to not acknowledge modern racism, despite its limpid evidence, is one that is generally unexplored and not discussed to the degree that it should. It is much more essential and much more complex.

While the heady content almost threatens to overshadow the performances on screen, they are still present and captivating. Of all the supporting guests of the household, Betty Gabriel specifically stands out as Georgina, the servant, delineating the role with a morbid, fragile, hopeless effusiveness. Bradley Whitford as Dean, Rose's father, truly elicits the creeps with his stilted, curiously milquetoast demeanor and Catherine Keener brings a dark, maternal quality to her role as Missy, Rose's mother. Allison Williams, resembling a young Jennifer Connelly, is sagaciously manipulative as Rose, shrewdly formulating any tactic to provide what is needed and yet receive what she wants.
However, the ultimate performance is Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, the lead role. I don't believe this will force Hollywood to ennoble him as a leading man, but I am perfectly content with this being the apotheosis of his career. His performance is applicably varied, being stoic, genial, vulnerable, and militant whenever it is apposite to the situation, without it feeling contrived. Also, Lil Rel Howery as Rod, resembling Jordan Peele with more plentiful hair, provides raucous comic relief. Yeah, a film with such searing, intricate ambitions and context has legitimately effective comedy.

Speaking of Jordan Peele...remember him? One-half of Key & Peele? He co-produced, wrote, and directed this film. Films helmed by comedians have a sketchy, spotty history. The last one I can think of was, hell, 2009's Miss March and...let's not justify the existence of that cinematic nothingness by discussing it further. As far as this film, I don't whether this is a fluke or a harbinger for even grander things to come, but let me say this: Jordan Peele can direct. He can direct uniquely and masterfully. His knack for mise-en-scene is spectacular. The cinematography by Toby Oliver is breathtaking. When it isn't displaying scenes of haunting lyricism or lurid tension, its wide, scenic, panoramic shots heavily replicate an ambiance of uncertainty and malaise. 
The score is also perfectly orchestrated by Michael Abels. His usage of music is multifarious and audacious for a horror film. As opposed to relying on obvious dynamics and warmed-over horror chords, his style of application is extensive. At times, the score is retro with old-fashioned violins and even jaunty, antiquated easy listening music circa the '40s, which can be arguably described as white people music, thus augmenting the content. Other times, the score implements a quasi-optimistic, semi-sentimental, grandiose feel to certain scary moments, which is wholly atypical for a horror film.

Peele's directorial debut is as frightening, invigorating, audacious, and visionary as a seasoned professional's masterwork. At times, it feels experimental, but he manages to deliver the precise beats and notes to satiate an audience. Don't be surprised if in ten to fifteen years, it is being discussed alongside John Carpenter's Halloween, George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, or Eduardo Sanchez' The Blair Witch Project as one of the all-time greatest horror debuts. It doesn't exploit African-American fears, but rather facilitates the expression of them and justifies the existence of them. It may not be the best film of the year, but it is certainly the most impressive and the most unexpected. If Spike Lee made a horror film, this is what it would be: blunt, brash, culturally relevant, unbridled, and profoundly engaging.

Also, I was already annoyed with ukuleles before this film. Now, I want them to be permanently abolished. Sooner rather than later would be appreciated.

RATING: Three-and-a-half stars out of four

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