Get Out exploits horror tropes to tell an original story

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut balances mystery, humour and horror

Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key have put some serious man hours into their comedy careers over the past decade. Following the success of sketch show Key and Peele on Comedy Central the duo became highly in demand. They found guest acting roles in the likes of Bob’s Burgers, Rick and Morty and even the TV adaptation of Fargo. Key has since focused on his acting career while Jordan Peele, on the other hand, has concentrated more on behind the scenes roles. He has collected more writing credits, including the pair’s 2016 buddy comedy Keanu, a pretty decent venture that served mainly as a platform for the two to put their fantastic chemistry on screen.

Jordan Peele does, therefore have writing experience for feature films, what he did not have before making Get Out, however, is directing experience. And what comes from Get Out is some pretty stellar directing. The film’s plot is best left discovered for yourself, essentially it is the story of a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s rich parents at a family get together in the countryside. Chris Washington has reservations about he will be treated over the weekend, he is played by Daniel Kaluuya, who might be recognised from UK TV roles like Black Mirror or Psychoville.

The plot moves forward with almost no diversions or subplots, there is a central premise and mystery in the film and the script serves solely to explore that. It is a strength of the horror genre that it can afford this tunnel vision like approach to filmmaking, it makes for pleasant, to the point viewing.

Get Out has undercurrents of real life racism but they are so well melded with the detached unreal racism on the screen that it never feels too heavy handed. True, most dialogue of the film is, to an extent, open to interpretation and serving another purpose but it benefits greatly working as a story first and foremost. It follows story beats, action cues, Chekhov’s guns and plot twists; it is not merely a vehicle for racial discourse and could be enjoyed in a social vacuum. It does however add another layer of enjoyment to the film to look at it through the eye of a first-time black director with an interest in these issues.

Yet Get Out impresses with its pacing, scenes are constructed in such a concise way, to create tension and tell the story through a great mix of visuals and sound design. The first scene of Chris and therapist Missy being a particularly strong example of this. The film eases the viewers into what it calls ‘a heightened sense of suggestibility’ becoming almost hypnotic with its ebb and flow.

Like with many horror films it takes place in few locations but manages to only feel claustrophobic when it needs to be. The small cast of speaking characters are given sufficient screen time to establish themselves and the waves of extras are effectively defined by one catchall description from Milly early on in the film “it’s a very white crowd.”

The film suffers at some points from overexplaining itself and some might think that it goes a bit too far into its own ridiculousness but I thought it appropriate considering the satirical element. Certain scenes featuring the comedic relief (LilRel Howery) can seem out of place but these are cancelled out by the charisma of his performance; these are all small nit-picks to what is a highly competent, greatly crafted flick. While I do understand the need for the budget to come from somewhere in such a small film, the level of Windows product placement is slightly off putting, shots linger on Lumia screens or bing searches a little too long that it did distract for a while.

However, I am looking for criticisms in the film because there really aren’t many to make, the film is a fantastically crafted, amusing journey into a well realised world with an interesting mythology. It takes its horror cues from its visuals, its outsider status and from a surreal warped view of humanity best likened to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Like last week’s review The VVitch, it avoids cheap tricks of most other Blumhouse pictures in favour of a more cerebral horror.

Recommendation

The film is a tight package, tied up with a neat little bow, it tells a small-scale story that hints at larger implications, it ends when it is done with the premise and resolves all possible loose ends. It is a pleasure to watch, prolonged stretches of tension and mystery are broken up with lightly comedic dialogue and a satirical remove that keeps everything light and breezy despite the subject matter.

 

The VVitch is a tortured descent into madness and hysteria

Fear is in the eye of the beholder in this jump scare free atmospheric horror

Occasionally, there is a film that is recommended to you time and time again that you, for some inconceivable reason, avoid watching. For me 2016 was the year of The Witch. It made an appearance on most best of the year lists and it came out in February, so why did it take me 14 months to finally sit down and watch The Witch?

Frankly, I don’t care why. I don’t care about much anymore. Not after seeing The Witch. I used up all my willpower powering through the last twenty minutes and I am now a husk.

The Witch is an atmospheric horror with the emphasis on atmosphere. It boasts a charcoal black tone and a slow creep of tension with a touch of phantasm. Aided by dimly lit, isolated locales and a tiny cast it is as low budget as can be, but also as low budget as it needs to be. It is a simple story of a family being tormented by a witch. That’s all there really is to say about the plot, the rest you can discover by yourself when you watch this amazing film.

The film’s greatest strength is its ability to construct fear as opposed to simply stating ‘here is the scary bit. You gasp now.’ Many movies mistake a jump scare as the payoff for building tension, Robert Eggers understands that the most terrifying payoff is one that is entirely constructed in the viewer’s mind. The Witch gives its viewers enough information to scare themselves with each new turn of the story without resorting to cheap tricks. The titular witch is revealed within the first ten minutes so it leaves no space for stupid clichés of the genre (“What was that?” “Probably just the wind” – “don’t be stupid, there’s no such thing as witches” etc etc)

There is a complete lack of jump scares and most the film’s power lies with the family unit that is being picked apart bit by bit. Like in The Shining, the film finds terror in the potential for family members to turn on each other. They search for meaning in God, the devil, fate and vengeance, all while the viewer knows its witchcraft. It’s a downward spiral of desperation and despair that only gets worse, and it’s fantastic.

It is held together by solid performances on all sides, Game of Thrones alumni Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie play their roles with a terrifically level mix of faith and despair. Yet they are both outshined by Anya Taylor-Joy, who hopped right from this role to the lead role in M Night Shyamalan’s Split. She plays the eldest daughter Thomasin with a fantastically mature and expressive performance and will hopefully be seen in more roles like this soon.

The film combines the atmosphere of The Shining with the aesthetics of The Blair Witch Project. It is well shot and simple in its beauty and muted colour pallet. However, criticisms will come from those who find difficulty acclimatising to the film, the characters speak in olde English and live in the 17th century, hardly the most glamourous or accessible of settings. Yet the dialogue is simple and easy to understand and the effort acquired to fall into the film is easily worth it for the terror that proceeds it. I hear potential whispers of people possibly calling The Witch boring and I hear louder whispers of myself telling those people to go fuck themselves.

Recommendation

It’s a dark film, a slow film, it is unpleasant and hard to watch and it all comes together to create a perfect unity. All in the service of atmosphere and mood, it creates weighty moments of real drama and tragedy, getting into the heads of the characters with an incredible effectiveness.

One of the greatest examples of ‘feel-bad cinema’ I have ever seen. The music is filled with dread, but not dreadful, the mood is horrible to bare but incredible to watch. If you can appreciate a good atmosphere and a story well told, then you owe it to yourself to see The Witch. I have not yet been so close to giving out my first A+ grade