Meet the (Brain Stealing) Parents

Get Out (US 2017) Dir: Jordan Peele

Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, Bradley Whitfield, Catherine Keener

The explicitly political horror film is a rare beast. Over time, the genre has justifiably gained fame as a vehicle for societal allegories, even if these were attached to certain films in hindsight by critics looking to give their copy more resonance. I’m thinking of the underlying social conservatism prevalent in the slasher sub genre (so memorably lampooned in the Scream franchise), and the alleged critique of western consumerism as the underlying theme in Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead (1979). Personally I like to think of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) as a treatise on the horrors of unemployment, a sort of Boys from the Blackstuff with a darker heart.

The two horror films that best exemplify an intentional socio/political commentary in this reviewer’s opinion are the original Night of the Living Dead (who can forget its shocking nihilistic ending?), and Bryan Forbes’ excellent 1975 second wave feminist chiller The Stepford Wives adapted from the Ira Levin novel of the same name.

It is this latter film that Get Out owes a debt to. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut begins as a taut, slightly unsettling tale centring on the angst of meeting the parents of one’s other half for the first time. Along the way it also weaves in an examination of the disparity between the level of media exposure that missing black people receive in the US as opposed to cases featuring whites (particularly females) that disappear.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a young black photographer is taken to meet his girlfriend Rose Armitage’s (Alison Williams) parents Dean and Missy (a pair of splendidly restrained performances by Bradley Whitfield and Catherine Keener respectively), and her passive aggressive brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jone) at their spacious country pile.

The Armitage family employ two black people, groundsman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel), both of who display curiously affected behaviour. Conscious of how this domestic setup may look, Rose’s neurosurgeon father Dean reassures Chris that ‘he would’ve voted for Obama a third time if he could’. This case of protesting too much is soon compounded at a weekend gathering of the Armitage’s friends and family who all make disparaging, passive aggressive racist remarks towards Chris, with the exception of Jim Hudson (Stephen Root), a blind art dealer, who tells Chris how much he admires his work. After Missy tricks Chris into being hypnotised over curing his smoking habit, matters quickly go south for the young man.

Black Lives Matter go to Stepford is perhaps too crude a label to give the film, and Peele goes for more of a straight horror/thriller angle than the satire of Forbes’s classic. We are cleverly wrong footed near the start of the film with a skilfully navigated confrontation with a local traffic cop, and the film resists the temptation to play up the victim angle (the climax to the third act shows that Chris is anything but). In fact it is this climax to the third act that is the weakest point of the film, seeming rushed and splatter heavy where a subtler, more nuanced and sinister denouement would have been more in keeping with the overall mood and tone of what has gone before. One half expects there to be a coda to events at this point, to rob the audience of reassurance and show that all is not well in this world despite the hero’s survival. Perhaps Peele was wary of sequelitis, and who can blame him? Given the film’s success and capturing of a particular moment in the zeitgeist, one wouldn’t put it past the studio to float the idea of a follow up.

In summary then, Get Out is an interesting and well made horror with great performances, even if the material is not quite as fresh and original as some of the hype has made it out to be. In the wake of this success, Peele has been linked to the long gestating live action Akira project, which he may be wise to stay clear of given Hollywood’s track record with Japanese properties. Resist the siren calls of sequels to your debut feature though Mr Peele, few recall the follow ups to The Stepford Wives, and with good reason.

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