Get Out (*****) is a throwback to another era

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Get Out – 2017

Written and Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring  Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, Catherine Keener, Lil Rel Howery, Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson

The best thing Jordan Peele’s first film as director (and writer) has going for it is the soft racism of low expectations. People have blindly implied that the film is a study of racism in the liberal suburbs. While there are elements of racism peppered throughout, saying that it’s even half of what Peele is trying to accomplish is to assume everything a black director makes needs to be soaked in tales of racism woes. It is also completely missing the fact that this is a first rate thriller of epic proportions.

Chris (Kaluuya) is heading out of town to spend the weekend with his girlfriend of 4 (actually 5) months, Rose (Williams). There is a tension between them about the trip, because Rose is a white woman and Chris is a young black man. They have a conversation about this and eventually Chris is set at ease when Rose comes to his defense during an interaction with police on the way there.

Once there, the messages are definitely mixed. While her father awkwardly comes across as the liberal hipster guy who “definitely would have voted a third term for Obama,” there are enough signs around that things are definitely not as they should be. Peele is an expert at many levels here. While the peculiarities could be perceived as a racial tension between the folks who live and work there, they could also be explained away in an easy enough fashion as just people who are generally out of touch and a little goofy.

Through it all, Chris has interactions going back and forth with his friend Rod, a TSA agent who stayed back at home to watch the dog. After a strange interaction with Rose’s mother (Keener), Chris no longer has the desire to smoke, but has also begun to have strange dreams. What is going on with Chris? Just as  important, what is wrong with everyone else in Rose’s hometown?

The acting in the story is first rate.There is not one performance that doesn’t fit the mood of the story perfectly. Kaluuya is a British find who has been in enough things to be known, but not enough to be the household name that this film shows he deserves to be. His friend Howrey is delightful too, in a role that might be thankless or worse in an average thriller.

Williams shows some range as Chris’ girlfriend. How she navigates the changing situation for her boyfriend indicates someone of more depth than the role normally would entail. As her parents, Keener and Whitford work on every level. They are the people who are so smart and well off, they would be impossible to want to spend any time with even if they did like you, which it seems like they don’t. Or do they?

As somewhat strange servants in the house, Gabriel and Henderson provide the strongest current of feeling in the house. What the hell is with these two, who seem so happy and sad all at once? They provide the biggest scares just by making eye contact.

Peele shows himself to be a master of suspense in a nearly Hitchcockian way. He strikes so many chords with just the right touch, it keeps the viewer in suspense. Even if they think they know some of what is going on, there are enough elements, you won’t catch everything. This is the work of a truly skilled craftsman. I cannot wait to see what he does on his own in the future.

If you like mysteries, see this film. If you like character pieces, see this film. If you like playing against expectation, see this film. If you like being scared, see this film. If you like great movies, see this one.

(***** out of *****)

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The Purge Election Year (**) Trying to wedge social commentary into a horror film

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The Purge Election Year – 2016

Written and Directed by James DeMonaco
Starring Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Raymond Jay Barry

So these films aren’t getting any better. They aren’t getting any worse, either. For every unique shock death we see in the distance, we get a steady dose of cliche up front. This time, we have a character from the previous film, Barnes (Grillo). He is the chief of security for (seeming Dem) Senator Roan (Mitchell). Roan experienced tragedy thanks to the purge 18 years prior, which gave her the drive to try and stop it through Congress. Grillo also had a background story in the last film, but that has apparently become irrelevant.

Opposing them, of course, are the white guy Republican-types from the first two films who sit in their ivory towers (or Catholic Churches) and pray / prey their way through the purge on the power of the almighty dollar and some type of understanding of human nature that eludes the heroes.

To make the evil more diverse, we get South African “Murder Tourists” who are there only to collect scalps. I am pretty sure all of these guys are relatives of the South African guy from Lethal Weapon 2 who had “diplomatic immunity.”

We also have some samaritans, grudging (Williamson) or otherwise (Gabriel) who help the good guys after their impenetrable fortress is penetrated. This leads us to the base of the resistance and Dante Bishop (Hodge), who was the kid that ran into the house in the first purge, endangering the family. He’s been fighting the power since then, and its about time they kill some old white males, don’t you think?

If you think I am ruining this for you, then I am sorry. This movie wrote itself easier than Griffin Mill with a room full of yes men.

The film is not lacking for acting talent. Mitchell, Williamson and Grillo are all capable and Gabriel has a kinetic energy that could be magnificent if used correctly. That they are slightly better than caricatures is by no means a result of direction or plot.

The films all have a real distinct look. The masks add a bland malevolence that promises chaos. Instead we get moments of carnage in between statements about unwritten rules that essentially, counter the whole idea behind the event.

If they really wanted to improve these films, they’d drop the politics and ramp up the creativity. Give it less a feel of government crackdown and more a sense of random chaos that can’t clean up after 12 hours.

The story is seemingly complete with this one. But who’s counting? When you make as much cash on the barrell as these films do while under the pretense of having a political point, why not keep pumping these films out. There will always be more old white people waiting in Catholic Churches.

(** out of *****)