Thursday, 9 March 2017

Film Review: Jordan Peele lands one hell of a debut with the masterful Get Out

The combination of comedy and horror is a tricky one to get right. The feeling of laughter could not be any further away from the feeling of being scared, they're on entirely different spectrums. Paradoxically, some people even laugh in fear. It's a bizarre mix of the two that creates a feeling almost impossible to induce, or even replicate. After all, how do you make someone laugh and scream at the same time?

The answer to that question comes in the form of Get Out, the directorial debut of actor and comedian Jordan Peele. It's a film rooted in satire and social commentary, but one that doesn't forget to actually craft a good film alongside that. The performances are engaging, the cinematography is effective, the pacing and structure are pinpoint accurate. It's brilliantly funny and horribly scary. It's the best comedy horror since Drag Me To Hell; in fact you could probably convince me to go back even further to find another similar film that outshines Peele's debut.

We start with Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). He's nervous because he's about to meet his Rose's family for the first time when they both head up to the family estate for the weekend. He's more nervous because he's black and they're white, he doesn't know how they'll respond. The film sets this anxiousness up nicely, never overplayed nor skimmed over. His worry is never depicted as a crisis, but it looms over the opening act, creating an uneasy atmosphere even in some of the more relaxed moments.

Once Chris and Rose arrive at the estate, things get weirder. Rose's dad (Bradley Whitford) overplays the whole "I'm not racist" thing, but Chris can let that slide. What he can't let slide is that the two people who work for the family are both black, and there's something so very off about them. When a plethora of guests arrive for the family's yearly get together, things just get a whole lot stranger, leaving Chris seemingly alone in wondering what on Earth is going on.

There's an awful lot to like in Get Out, but my favourite? Unpredictability. No one can lay claim to guessing where this film heads in its final act. There are a handful of effective little twists along the way - most of which will probably cross your mind at some point prior to the reveal, but that won't lessen the impact. You still won't know where the story is headed, and even once you get to the conclusion you'll find yourself in the dark still.

Get Out's balancing of comedy and horror is what helps to elevate this to the same level as other recent A-grade horrors. While this lacks the visual eeriness of It Follows, or the emotional trauma of The Babadook, or the stimulating tension of The Witch, Get Out uses comedy to find its niche in contemporary horror. It brings the two together well; one particular moment of Chris interacting with the housemaid is hilarious in just how unsettling it is.

Smartly, it also lets them work on their own, independent from each other. There's a brilliantly tense hypnosis sequence in which all notions of comedy are dropped and the film crafts a fantastically unusual atmosphere, you'll be unable to decide whether you should be on the edge of your seat or cowering in the back of it. The comedy also works on its own, mostly stemming from Chris' friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery). His character could feel like the tacked on comic relief with added plot benefits, but Peele writes him so well that he fully integrates into the film's world. He's without question the funniest character and the fact that his moments in the spotlight don't undercut the film's darker tone is impressive.

The comedy and horror are weighted nicely, but Get Out's best balancing act comes with its handling of racism. This story sounds like it's written to condemn people, to act angry about something a lot of people might not be able to relate to. Peele bypasses this, though. Instead of feeling preachy or pretentious, Get Out simply sheds light on a situation many aren't able to understand. Its conclusion also refuses to box characters into stereotypes or make any big statement. The film goes so overboard with the weirdness, and brilliantly so, that it circles back around to being relatable to no one. We're left with a film that has big themes and powerful messages on its mind, and embeds them into the story without judgement or blame.

It's tough to believe this is Peele's debut. There is a confidence and assuredness to his work here that masks this fact. Get Out feels like the film a director should make mid way through their career, after they've learnt all there is to know but before they lost their creativity and imaginative spark. He masterfully toys with character types, his script is intricate and riddled with effective foreshadowing. With just his first film, Peele has crafted something exceptional. I already can't wait to see where he goes next.

In A Sentence

Perfectly balanced and as outrageously funny as it is suspenseful, Get Out is a masterful debut feature for writer/director Jordan Peele, marking him as a talent destined for a big future.

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