get out (2017)
Jordan Peele's Get Out blends the best of over-the-top comedy and horror in a paranoid racial nightmare. The undertones in social interaction are brought to their most campy exaggerations and Peele crafts the Hudson Valley upper-middle class equivalent of what The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was to the paranoid fantasies about the inbred southern poor. Peele's farce lambastes Obama-era race relations among liberals for much of its runtime, focusing on our hero, Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya. The main gag for most of the opener revolves around Chris' discomfort at visiting his girlfriend's family, the family's bizarre behavior as they try to connect, and the eventual arrival of the extended-family for a party who treat Chris like an object of admiration. They regard him mostly physically, making Chris feel more like livestock than a guest at the party. From start to finish, Peele never breaks tone and continues to escalate the stakes as well as the camp, and to great effect. Get Out finds itself working better and better as it progresses down its road, taking what starts trite and twisting it every chance he gets. The twists become more bizarre and devilishly funny and the observations become more pointed and intelligent as the film moves forward. To Peele's credit, he never finds himself taking the easy or obvious road, and the film's visual flourishes are well-placed. It's got tones of Eyes Without A Face and manages to work on the level of a horror movie, all the while never betraying the cheeky comedic territory we began in.
Where Get Out finally stalls in elation is the moment it pushes its premise a step too far into mad science territory and the mind control premise becomes a Body Snatchers scenario via brain transplants. For the era the film is mocking, the mind control premise lends to being more telling as well as, for me anyway, funnier when it comes to Chris's paranoid fantasy that the group of white friends and family view him, and every other black character, as potential brainwashed slaves, objectified to the furthest degree and completely dehumanized into a caricature. Where Peele instead takes it is potentially funnier, though doesn't land with the same punch as much of the film. The conclusions that Peele brings us to is not that the family is negatively racist towards Chris, rather the opposite, they are overly-positively racist towards Chris to the point of obsession. The ultimate conclusion twists this as the liberal family is so fascinated by black culture that they want to become black themselves by inhabiting their bodies. In either scenario, the implication is that the white race is extremely focused on the physical advantages of the black race while denying entirely their culture and intellect as essential aspects of being black. Rather the white characters are obsessed with the strength, speed, soul and general mannerisms of blackness and looking to acquire them for their own. Peele also draws in an element that satires sedentary, TV watching culture by making Chris's achilles heel (the death of his mother while he sits idly watching television, paralyzed by fear or perhaps turned apathetic as a defense mechanism) seem to fuel what is ultimately the fate he looks to escape. When his body is no longer his own, his mind will exist in a state of basic TV-watching for the rest of his days as he witnesses what the white intruder is doing with his body but unable to control what is happening. Peele's critique blankets a lot of modern culture, which plays to its strengths, but the generally unfocused conclusion from what was a cohesive and comically one-note screenplay so far begins to lose some of its comic potency by the end when we spread ourselves too thin. The pot boils for much of the runtime, though as Peele ratchets up the tension as the film progresses and never lets us down in terms of momentum. The film moments of suspense are expertly laid out and executed, especially the final act and Caleb Landry Jones pulls out the best character performance of the movie as the brother. Overall this is the major strength of what Peele accomplishes, his characterizations fill out in all directions as his actors inhabit them, what begins as cut-outs progresses to flesh out as it moves forward, rather than the other way around. Peele's structure of beginning with all the predictability we'd expect from a conclusion and never going back to that territory after the opening act plays to the film's advantage, we're continually surprised as we barrel toward the conclusive and increasingly visually and thematically complex final act. Peele moves toward a darker conclusion and backs off at the last second without going any further. We know Chris has been the victim of an inhuman plot to steal his body, and we know that he is a fish out of water in this part of the state. The dark futility of the situation that, even if he escapes, no one will believe his story and will side with the murdered white family over himself. Peele initially wrote and shot this darker ending and then replaced it. In a way it's refreshing, after seeing such a no-win situation, that the film resolves itself in a happy ending, but it undermines the film's structure of constant developments that both send the film more over the top and ratchet up the real world complexities of the narrative. By excising this ending it robs the film of a difficult, albeit in-line with the rest of the proceedings, conclusion.
Peele is able to do what few can and make a film about race with its finger firmly on the pulse of American 21st century racial reality. Rather than beating trite drums from decades past that suffices for a racial conversation in so much fiction and media, Peele's perspective reaches peaks of truth by means of extreme exaggeration. He finds truth through a reduction to absurdity as the best of comedy can. He also succeeds in a tense horror/action film that never resorts to formula and continues to take a stylish and restrained approach even as it sails over the top on its narrative base. Get Out becomes sharp social entertainment and a fine film. A phenomenal debut by Peele and some of the most impressive horror-comedy since Sam Raimi. Looking forward to what Peele comes up with next.