FEBRUARY 23, 2017
There are a lot of awful things that will come from the Trump administration (for examples, refresh your Twitter feed, and then again when you finish reading this review as there will likely be a new one), but there is one good one: it's likely to yield a number of politically charged or at least downright ANGRY horror movies. Ideally, it would be not unlike the '60s and '70s output, not coincidentally when our country as last in such dire straits (when things are good, horror tends to be at its blandest - i.e. the '90s). Of course, he'll likely/hopefully be impeached before any of them see the light of day given the slow nature of productions, but that's part of what makes Get Out such a minor miracle - it feels like a partial response to a world run by a racist old white guy who swears he's not racist, even though it was written and shot during the relative calm of the Obama administration. Writer/director Jordan Peele is either a clairvoyant who really should have warned us, or has been blessed with the best timing possible for his debut film.
When Peele announced he would be making a horror film, most (including myself) thought it would be a comedic one; maybe not exactly Boo! A Madea Halloween, but something along the lines of The 'Burbs or maybe Cabin in the Woods - smart stories that utilized comedy and horror in equal measures. So it's kind of funny how apt my examples turned out to be even though the film is a straight up horror (it's got some laughs, but not enough to dub it a "horror comedy"), because like Cabin it's got actor Bradley Whitford and like Burbs it focuses heavily on one man's paranoia about some folks in his proximity, in this case his girlfriend's WASP-y family. However, the main difference is that neither of those films tackled anything as heavy as race relations, which gives Get Out both its aforementioned timeliness as well as primary strength - Tales from the Hood might be the last mainstream horror film to take on these issues as directly and seriously as Peele does here, and that was over twenty years ago (if I've forgotten one, forgive me - and no, I wouldn't say Land of the Dead quite qualifies as that was more of a basic "rich vs poor" thing, and The Purge series has some bite but it's largely drowned out by its Cannon-esque gunplay and chase scenes).
The thing I loved most about the movie is how it was at its most nerve-wracking when none of the horror stuff was happening. Our black hero Chris is meeting the family of his white girlfriend (Rose, played by Allison Williams), and she assures him that his race won't be a "thing", stressing that her dad voted for Obama twice (and would have done so a third time if he could!), but it's clear right off the bat that it's making them uncomfortable. But not in the way you'd expect - they keep bending over backwards to show how much they "don't care". Dad (Whitford) keeps calling him "my man" and, as Rose predicted, tells him how much he loved Obama. He even proudly tells Chris that his father was beaten by Jesse Owens in a race once, fawning over the physical prowess being black afforded Mr. Owens. For a while, Chris takes this stuff in stride and even finds some of it amusing, but by the time the family invites a bunch of their like-minded friends over for an annual cookout (where one introduces himself to Chris by asking him if he golfs, just so he can explain how much he loves Tiger Woods), he's gotten pretty tired of it, and has started noticing too many odd things that aren't helping his discomfort.
Now, I dunno if it's my inherent white guilt, or Peele's skill as a filmmaker, or both, but either way I found myself more tensed up during these earlier scenes than I was when shit hits the fan and Chris discovers what's really going on (something I won't spoil here, though I will hint that the movie could technically be marked with another genre tagging). It was almost like the same kind of squirming feeling you get when Michael Scott on The Office is getting particularly awful (think "Scott's Tots"), but when in the context of a movie you know is a horror movie, it becomes almost unbearable - I was almost hoping someone would just lash out and stab the other just to RELIEVE the tension. Sort of like how the congressmen who are loudest about how gays shouldn't be able to marry and transgender people shouldn't be able to use the bathroom of their choice are always the ones caught blowing dudes in public bathrooms, they're too loud about how much they are NOT this thing that it becomes obvious that they ARE. Chris can see right through it; despite no indication whatsoever from him that he feels this way, they act like their guest assumes they are racist and have to prove that they're not... a mentality that is kind of racist!
Anyway, that attitude extends to the horror-part of the plot, which again I won't spoil (and will laud the trailers for following suit), only to say that it's brilliant. It's also up for interpretation: is Peele suggesting the film's villains are colossally stupid, or secretly ashamed of their perceived limitations? The film works beautifully either way, so it doesn't really matter, but when thinking about it I had to pause and reflect on the fact that this was the first major horror film in a long time that got me thinking this heavily afterward. Nothing against the Underworld and Resident Evil sequels that are possibly playing in the same multiplexes, or even fellow Blumhouse production Split, but these aren't movies that give you a lot to work with. Their face value attributes are pretty much all there is to them, so seeing something with layers is not only refreshing, it's INTIMIDATING as a writer (especially one who has gotten rusty since I stopped writing a review every day). I'm used to just judging a horror flick's merit on whether they used CGI monsters or not, or if the kill count was sufficient for that sub-genre - who the hell is Jordan Peele to challenge me and make me reflect on how I was unfortunately led to believe certain things about minorities thanks to a few friends (and sigh, family members) when I was a kid, before my all-white school/neighborhood afforded me the chance of actually knowing any? Thankfully I knew better by the time I got to high school, but not everyone from my grade school was as lucky; thanks to Facebook it's easy to see a few old pals haven't quite passed that stage and are now likely passing those attitudes on to their kids. It's gross, and something I don't want to think about all that often period, let alone when I'm watching my horror movies. Can't I just talk about zombie makeup or something?
I kid, of course. These are conversations that need to happen, and if this is how they come about then so be it. Thankfully, Peele wasn't out to punish anyone in the audience, and knew enough to ease some of that tension with genuine humor. Most of it comes courtesy of Chris' best friend Rod, who is a TSA agent that is also watching Chris' dog while he's gone, giving him a real reason to keep in touch as often as he does (I'm precious enough with my cats when I go out of town, checking in with the "cat-sitter" twice a day, so I can't imagine how I'd be with a dog who'd actually give a shit that I'm gone, unlike cats). As I said, the movie has humor without ever being a full blown comedy, and 90% of them come from this character, who is in the movie JUST enough to feel like a full character (and not just some funny friend of Peele's that he wanted to include, i.e. The Paul Feig Problem) but not so much that he wears out his welcome. And yes his TSA job actually has a point (besides Peele getting us to like a TSA agent, another stroke of brilliance), resulting in what was probably the biggest audience-friendly moment in the film. Goddammit I wish I could spoil these things!
I have almost no complaints about it; there's a bit of a logic stretch to one reveal (to be as vague as possible, it involves old photos) and Rose's brother, played by Caleb Landry Jones, feels like he had a big scene or two cut somewhere along the line, but neither of them are exactly what I'd call fatal flaws, just occasional distractions. And that's really all that "bothered" me, everything else worked like gangbusters, to the extent where I already plan to see it again, to see how the 3rd act reveals change my perspective on earlier scenes. I'd also like to once again revel in the fact that there are almost zero typical cliches in the movie: no mirror scares (there is a "someone moves past frame unnoticed" one, but it's actually well done), no "no cell service" nonsense, etc. Peele is actually a major horror fan (he says he's actually been wanting to make horror movies all along, it just turns out he's damn hilarious and was doing just fine in the comedy world), so it makes sense he'd know what sort of things were played out and would annoy his fellow horror fans if he included them. Hell, he even actually ties the obligatory prologue into the narrative, instead of it just being a standalone attack scene of no real consequence (i.e. Scream 2 - a terrific setpiece focused on characters who aren't connected to any of our heroes and are barely mentioned again). This is a guy we want making horror movies, and I hope it's not a "one and done" kind of deal for him.
Finally, speaking of who makes our horror movies, I hope to hell the movie makes Split money (update: so far it has! I wrote this review on Friday but forgot to finish editing and post it), because maybe that will convince Blumhouse to branch out even more often. Nothing against the Insidious series (which is continuing), but I think they've run paranormal horror tales into the ground, and really should be utilizing their low-budget (and thus low-risk) model to more challenging fare like this, instead of haunted house and possession flicks. They can always fall back on safer stuff should these more risky ones not pay off, but so far they pretty much always have: The Gift, Split, and this all made just as much money as their more traditional scarefests (moreso in Split's case; it's their highest grossing film ever). Even The Purge has found greater success with their more politically charged sequels than their average home-invasion original. Horror fans may be drooling over their Halloween revival, but that's not all we want - give us something we can really sink our teeth into both as horror fans and (for most of us) angry human beings who have to worry about actual Nazis again. And as the low grosses for this year's genre sequels (and Bye Bye Man) have proven, we want something new, and not necessarily escapist fare, either. The major studios will always churn out the normal stuff, but we don't really have any outfits like Blumhouse who have been able to create a dependable brand while keeping the budgets low (and get those films released by major studios, usually Universal), so as Trump administration continues to wreak havoc on the world, now more than ever we need them to commit to more fare like this.
What say you?
P.S. Now that Jordan Peele has proven a comedian can make a horror movie, can we please get Bill Hader's When A Stranger Calls A Dude made? If you haven't heard of it, google it, and then tell me that doesn't sound like the best thing ever.