Get Out is unsurprisingly thoughtful and surprisingly terrifying

Catching up on Get Out a little later than most, I knew to have my expectations high, but I didn’t know precisely how high. Based on the trailers and director Jordan Peele’s sketch comedy pedigree, I expected a subversive and satirical take on suburban racism, kind of like if Cabin in the Woods was more interested in the world around it than horror tropes (the presence of Bradley Whitford certainly didn’t hurt that expectation). Suffice to say, Get Out is not the film I prejudged it to be. It’s insights into white-collar racism are sharp, but I expected that. It has its moments of deadpan hilarity, but I expected that. What I didn’t expect is how terrifying and tense the film is, and how visually distinctive and original Peele’s production is. This is not only a movie that deftly highlights a rift in the modern discussion about race, but it is also 2017’s answer to It Follows and The Witch as an original vision in horror, and an announcement of Jordan Peele as a filmmaker well worth following.

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Let’s start by looking at the frame above, which despite its presence in the trailers caught me completely off guard during the film. The push-in is uncomfortably close, actress Betty Gabriel’s face uncomfortably strained, all of which would be textbook unnerving scene-setting. But then there’s that damned bedpost on the left side of the image, which is ever-so-slightly tilted, temporarily destroying our frame of reference, and dark, making the push-in feel even more closed off. There’s nothing objectively scary in the image, no jump scare introduces it, but it’s among the most effective in the film. As the film slowly details its situation, the type of horror it plays with naturally shifts, and Peele constantly finds interesting ways of expressing it. His sense of humor certainly comes in handy to break the tension (a VHS recording late in the film manages to end on a note that’s equally unsettling and hilarious), but don’t be fooled by Peele’s sketch-comedy resume: Get Out is self-aware but not self-satirical.

Of course, Get Out is being discussed mostly for its social commentary, which makes nuanced points that beg further dissections (sample titles for the inevitable undergraduate papers on Get Out: Deer, Colonist Avatar or Symbol of Bondage?, and Appropriation Reappraised: The Folly of Colorblindness). Peele avoids making its upper-class white villains unbelievable Stepford-esque twats or hood-wearing cartoons; at the start, they feel very much like well-meaning but out-of-touch suburbanites (Bradley Whitford’s Dean Armitage would have voted for Obama a third time, after all). Get Out doesn’t engage with the alt-right; such a target is too easy. Instead, it questions the post-racial line of thinking, exposing the often unintentional and non-malicious white supremacy that is pervasive in liberal communities. That it doesn’t fall into hamfisted preaching, nor feel the need to pat its white audience members on the back, is great. That it seamlessly marries its commentary to visceral terror is masterful.

Film Title: Get Out

A

Get Out (2017)
Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, and Catherine Keener
Rotten Tomatoes (99%)

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Get Out is unsurprisingly thoughtful and surprisingly terrifying

Don’t Breathe is a simple, mostly effective thrill ride

Popcorn horror movies, by default, tend to work as morality tales, where a group of nominally young folks make a very bad decision and pay a price well beyond the normal scales. This could be something like messing with mystic powers they don’t understand, or a crime that haunts them from the past, or something subtler like loosening their professional principles. More often than not, they’re punished for sexual indiscretion, although the best of the genre flip this into commentary on society’s attitudes towards sex. Don’t Breathe is not terribly subtle in this regard; in it, three young adults abuse the trust of an authority figure to attempt to rob a blind man in his home while he sleeps. The said blind man (credited as The Blind Man) is able to create a nightmare for them is only expected. Don’t Breathe doesn’t manage to dive much beyond the surface of its morality tale, and even backpedals from it in some unappealing ways, but works very well as an original ninety minute thrill ride to watch in a dark room.

The best and worst thing the movie has going for it is it’s central villain, The Blind Man, played Stephen Lang (who remains the biggest redeeming feature of Jame Cameron’s Avatar). The decision to make the character blind was a stroke of genius, evoking a type of horror seen many times in survival horror games (for example, the clickers in The Last of Us or the beserker in Gears of War), but rarely sustained over a feature runtime. Carelessness can get you caught, but so can a sufficient amount of shit luck, and The Blind Man plays the role of hunter and agent of fate. His mastery of his lair and imposing physical stature compared to the panicked robbers gives him the feel of a Minotaur, where the intruders have the benefit of sight but are distinctly without a home field advantage. However, there is an unnecessary sick twist near the final act that nearly derails the character, and Lang’s performance falters at precisely this moment. Indeed, the last twenty minutes of the movie could be excised without losing much.

While it’s setups get occasionally silly (mostly involving The Blind Man’s hound), the silliness is rarely due to obvious stupid-main-character syndrome. It puts a token amount of effort into giving a backstory to two of the intruders, Rocky and Alex, and while this external motivation is a bit clumsy, it suffices to keep the film from being purely a sadistic dead teenager movie. They’ve dug their own way into this mess, but we do wish for them to make it out of it. Rocky is particularly effective, mostly due to the presence of Jane Levy, who will run this world one day (mark my words!).

Don’t Breathe has been hyped considerably, and perhaps set expectations a bit too high. It’s an effective thrill piece, but it doesn’t stick in the mind afterwards, and I’m not terribly interested in revisiting it. However, it will fit rather perfectly in the streaming queue to save for a very dark and very quiet evening.

B-

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Don’t Breathe (2016)
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Starring Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, and Stephen Lang
Rotten Tomatoes (87%)

Don’t Breathe is a simple, mostly effective thrill ride