Saturday, May 6, 2017

Review: GET OUT

A young couple prepare to spend the weekend at her parents' house in the country. He, Chris, is troubled as he suspects she, Rose, has not told them that he's black. She assures him that they will be fine and, reluctantly, he goes along with it. They head off in her car and hit a deer along the way. After an uncomfortable encounter with a local cop who pays more attention that he should to Chris they arrive at the family seat and experience a series of awkward dad-meets-boyfriend moments blended with the kind of soft-faced patronising racism that only the one percent can perform in the belief that its undetectable.

Where we started as Guess Who's Coming to Dinner but we are very swiftly transported to the soil from which grew Rosemary's Baby or the Stepford Wives as the local gentry gather to prod, condescend to and frankly evaluate the newcomer. If his encounters with the African American domestic staff have come off as unnerving his meeting with the sole black guest at a garden party is solidly eerie. The mounting alienation and measured discomfort are not about to abate at any time soon. What has he got himself into?

This sci-horror fable of race relations is candid about its ancestry, eschewing contemporary irony in favour of a direct linear ride through a grim moral landscape. While I at first baulked at the literal orchestral music cues with their menacing strings and brass it soon became apparent that they were fitting very snugly in with the scheme and I was able to relax and let it take me where it would. While there are no Shyamalanian twists or thunderous revelations in the third act Get Out uses its relatively simple path to immerse us in its concentrated abstraction of the experience of the outsider and the disturbing lack of social progress it witnesses.

As the film is so doggedly single-tracked and big-themed the care in the casting must rate more highly than the writing. Londoner Daniel Kaluuya brings a brooding malcontent restrained by social skill. When he breaks it is in tight step with the narrative and avoids clunky foreshadowing. The rapport between him and Allison Williams as the central couple has a breezy and intimidating fleetness. When she must change her demeanour towards the final act its ice is weighty for the contrast. Caleb Landry Jones brings the same baby Brad Dourif tenterhooked edge he brought to Antiviral. Bradley Whitford maintains a suave but barely veiled hostility throughout as Rose's father. And then there's Catherine Keener, genuinely scary as she presents a maternal face that contains a pair of contemptuous eyes. So, good cast, good idea with a firm helm: does it work?

Because of the intentional one-note execution the mood of this film can take a little acclimatisation. I can easily imagine some folk judging it to be hollow, wanting more of a balance after the onslaught of genteel hostility that envelopes Chris, more of a turn to the tables. But I don't think that's on the agenda here. If we want our experience of this failed acculturation is it not better to take that imbalance from the experience? If the big music scoring and obvious genre tropes leave us in no doubt as to the purpose of the film might that not also work to give us pause to consider its motivation? This is an angry film. How wonderful, then, to find that anger served with such effortless skill. Sometimes we just need to feel the discomfort and if this film tells us repeatedly that we're allowed to .....