Now those who are regular readers of my reviews know I’m not big on horror, however the more I heard about Get Out (2017) I knew it was probably something I should check out. Being more than the regular run of the mill horror film, with the formulaic jumps and build-ups to the next time you jump out of your seat. Here there’s something more subversive going on which is bringing an audience who may have stayed away. There’s also the non-controversey by raised by Samuel L. Jackson who said that Daniel Kaluuya being an English actor should not have been chosen for the lead as he would not understand the struggle of other brothers in America. Forgetting that unfortunately that racism is universal. There’s also the argument that as we have seen with other Black leading actors, British actors are classically trained so maybe more qualified for the roles they are getting. Ultimately they are acting, if they convey the emotions and ideas of the character that develops the narrative then it doesn’t matter as long as they have been cast right for the role. So Mr Jackson, on this one – pipe down and look at the bigger picture, the lack of fair and more honest representation of African-Americans, whoever plays them, American or British, or even South African, as long as they can relate to the role and give at least a competent performance, then and only then are you improving the image of black life in the world.
Staying with the racism theme which underlies what the film is about, added the increased tensions in America with the Trump administration Get Out is a very pertinent film. With Obama now part of modern history we are seeing a darker side we had hoped was no longer present come to the fore. The underbelly of racism has been given a voice to speak up during last years election, Trump feeding on the hate and resentment that has been created in the last few decades due to globalisation, increasing equality (which still has a way to go) tensions are high to uneasy.
These tensions are felt by Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) whose about to meet his girlfriends parents. To be fair who wouldn’t be. Wanting to make a good impression on them, hoping they will accept you as a part of your partners life. Add to that he’s black, which will make him the elephant in the room of White family in suburbia, so what he is feeling is normal with the addition of his heritage. Here’s hoping it goes well, even with reassurances from girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), her parents loved Obama, they would have voted for him a third time, maybe laying it on a little too thick, its enough to calm him for the ride over Rose’s home.
The ride over isn’t as straight forward as you’d think it would be, the audience is not allowed to be too relaxed when it comes to this film. A deer running out in the road invites a racist cop who asks Chris for ID even though he wasn’t driving, reflecting the black prejudice towards Black people. It’s like we’ve entered a world of heightened prejudice, oh wait this is America through a very sharp lens. Then the fun begins when the couple arrive at the family home, it all looks a little too good to be true, a Black grounds keeper who is anything but normal, you could say his personality has been sucked out of him. I was reminded early on of The Stepford Wives (1975), as wives return home, after a brief period away, the same yet so very different. We only get glimpses of the groundskeeper and house-maid (Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel) who as we see show no signs of even being – human, they appear to be more white in attitude and personality.
Onto meeting the family, which goes smoothly enough, if only a little too smoothly, we can see it like a sales pitch which is being repeated and delivering the product a little to well, there must be some cracks to this family façade. It’s on the first night when Chris is restless he falls foul to hypnotherapy by the mother Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener) who we already know has a great cure for quitting smoking. Leading him into a session of hypnotherapy that is only the beginning of how creep things are going to get.
It’s only with the annual family gathering do things start to get really questionable, all white guests who bend over backwards to be polite to Chris whose really uncomfortable by all the guests. Making overly nice comments about Black people, it’s either desperate or plain creepy. When his phone camera goes off when he talks to the only other black guest Andrew Logan King (Lakeith Stanfield) who snaps out of his ultra-friendly personality to reveal a more human and terrified side to him. The cracks are starting to show in this façade of a gathering. There’s something sinister involving brain-washing going on at least. Or as comic relief suggest, Rod Williams (LilRel Howery)
“…Their probably abducting black people, brain washing them and making them slaves. Or sex slaves. not just regular slaves, but sex slaves and sh_t. See? I don’t know if it’s the hypnosis that’s making em slaves or wot not, but all I know is they already got two brothas we know and there could be a whole bunch of brothas they got already…”
The final act reveals what’s really going on, a white cult who lure in Black people to harvest them for superior body parts, leaving them practically lobotomized, without personality, unless your camera flash goes off the suppressions diffused to reveal the true horrors. You could say they are White supremacists who acknowledge that Black people maybe superior but will not allow this to get out, ensure social control, white at the top, blacks in their place. Is this the future for Trumps America or a prediction of what it is to come. Are we over-reacting to what is going on? Only African-Americans and the makers of the film truly know what is going on for them. I can be presented with all the racially motivated police shootings, demonstrations that the news presents me. Get Out is a suburban take on how to present this real anxiety that has not gone away. With a nice dose of humour to lighten the mood or we would come out of the film shaken by the images. Instead I came away relieved to the resolution, justice is served yet leaves you thinking could this really be going on, can people operate like this. I know I won’t be going to the Armitage’s.
The road to this Western has been a bumpy one, the film was initially announced before the script was later leaked, which caused Quentin Tarantino to throw his toys out of the pram, it happen that scripts get leaked, all to do with his massive ego which you can see in The Hateful Eight (2015). Thankfully he calmed down enough to film it for. We’ve been teased with trailers that had no footage, he wanted to wet our appetites without even a single frame of footage being exposed. And that’s another thing, he has celebrated the fact that it was filmed traditionally on a format that is rarely seen, Ultra Panavision 70 even when film has only been saved by himself and few other die-hard directors for the medium. Its been quite a journey for the film.
Staying with the format of the film, I’m not sure that from where I sat (in packed screen near the front) that I got the full impact. There is something to be said for seeing a physical print of a film, when its projected through light the image has more authenticity, the grain, the noise of the image that bounces on the screen. Its more alive than a crystal clean image that has been delivered on a memory card or transmitted to the cinema. I did however feel overpowered by the commanding presence of the format, not the medium but the screen ratio that forced you at times to move your had to take in all of the action that was at times wall to wall. There are moments when we have just met a few of the 8 that conversations are all you see, the characters heads fill the frame to the point that they are spilling out over the frame. These close-ups are intense, not those of Sergio Leone but something else that draws into the conversation and you don’t want to leave, you’re trapped.
Technically the format has restricted the box-office return that the film will ultimately make. In the UK alone 4 cinema chains cannot show the film as they are no longer equipped with film projectors. It shows the current state of film, but I don’t hear the director complaining, more concerned with the format that its projected in. Previously talking about a roadshow format that could allow audiences to see the film. A very old way of seeing a film. Gone are the days are staggered release in a country, this would however make it more of an event that simply choosing your time and go which we are used to today.
Ok so less about the technicalities of the film and more about the plot, trying to be as a spoiler free as I can. A few days ago I caught Reservoir Dogs (1992) which this has long been compared with. Which to a point it is, and zero to do with Rio Bravo (1959) which I thought, however a strong influence over the length of the dialogue, as much as we don’t just hang with these 8 people we are instead kept in a state of tension as discussion tightens and tightens as the film progresses. That’s after a long stretch on the snowy road up to Minnie’s Haberdashery where the film revolves. We meet one half of the group that will occupy the wood cabin in the snow-storm. Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson returns to another role as Major Marquis Warren, tailor made for the actor who chews up the dialogue and regurgitates is deliciously on the ears. Opposite a semi-regular Kurt Russell as John Ruth the hangman accompanied by his latest bounty in chains, the devilish Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who we are encouraged to feel sorry for. A beaten woman in chains, yet holds her own in the face of a black soldier who fought in the recent civil war.
There are political and racial tensions in the film which do indeed reflect America today, as there isn’t a week goes by when a black person is shot and for very little reason. Something that has seen Tarantino in the news for as he campaigns against. With the arrival of a Confederate soldier Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who has some great lines. I can’t imagine another actor in the role (besides Billy-Bob Thornton) make the balance between comedy and outright racism for other Civil War veteran. The Sheriff of Red Rock, the next town where everyone is heading, for a new job, to die and other to collect payment.
When we finally arrive at Minnie’s we still have to wait before they are still in the same room. It’s all about build-up as we meet the other characters who have already escape the storm. Having just met these we have to start all over again. Most have already been in director/writers films so do take easily to the dialogue. Two from Dogs Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) and Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) who each have the backstories. I personally took to the old cowboy Gage, the centre of the Western genre, waiting to get home to see his mother for Christmas. Of course this is all surface which we have to interrogate between them all. Its all about what we listen and understand. There is one dangerous conversation between Maj. Warren and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) that ends badly for one of them. As an event is grusesomely retold for those in the cabin and us in the audience. It’s also good to see Dern on-screen whose gaining another audience as a cranky old man who can surely bite, the grey hair is only a facade when it comes to Dern.
The structure of the film is broken into 5 chapters, 2 on the road and 3 in the cabin, something that you don’t see in the genre. It helps to structure the film, and allows to breath if only for a moment. I felt the narration by Tarantino just wasn’t necessary, if it was really needed, someone else could have taken on that role. It all adds to the stroking of his ego which is massive to say the least with the comments he has come out with. You easily take out the narration and just carry on. The flashback sequence which does explain a lot goes someway to giving some characters more time.
As with all Tarantino films violence is at the centre, well tale end of the film, its all stacked up and shared out in the last 45 minutes as characters are killed off in shocking order. Saying little as possible, pay no attention to the billing as no-one is safe with a gun in your hand. It’s always a pleasure to see a Tarantino film if only for the dialogue, he’s tried something new year, well rehashed and shaken up as an Agatha Christie as learn who these people are. Heaps of talking, but where I get frustrated with Christie there is no action. There is always the intent of violence. it switches from character to character in the room. They discuss politics, justice and everything in between, opinions are strong and forthright.
Even if Leigh is the only female and gets a lot of grief and violence in her direction she is just as strong as her male counterparts in the film. Westerns are traditionally male heavy which maybe right or wrong, that’s a discussion for another article. What does it however add to the genre though? Its heavily stylized, still violent and rooted in the same era as most Westerns. It’s very contemporary still but not a light watch, it demands your time which is what you can go easier on the classics if you wanted and still enjoy it as a whole.
I have decided that during the Ben Wheatley season of films that I am watching, to be aware of very little of their plots before viewing. When turning to Kill List (2011) the formula is working well for me. Having seen a trailer and little else, my expectations were mixed and dark, which is perfect for this thriller that sees two contract killers being called up to take on a new list of victims
The director himself talks of the film being broken up into three smaller films, which maybe so, or just the structure of the film as it unfolds. Either way the action becomes darker and darker. We first meet family man and ex soldier Jay (Neil Maskell) and his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) who are constantly at each others throats. The money from the last contract is starting to dry up and the thought of another is hard to swallow. When his old friend Gal (Michael Smiley) and his partner Fiona (Emma Fryer) arrive for dinner tensions start to rise. We constantly see period of calm talk before outburst of bloody violence that escalates throughout. Much like that of the standard Tarantino film, yet there is more at stake in this world of Wheatley’s.
Another contract is on the cards for both Neil and Gal who go off to meet their boss for orders. Its all slick and professional at times. The first signs of something else are soon on the surface, becoming ritualistic, there’s more to these killings than meet the eye. The first kill is methodical, thought out and carried out with a professional distance. It’s just a job, that happens to take in the killing of others for money. Neil’s starts to unwind mentally when they get to the second victim, whilst his wife and partner in crime sees this, unable to stop the madness consume him.
Its the last kill that is the most fascinating and ritualistic, that of an M.P. out in the country, moving into The Wicker Man (1973) territory, nicely blended with that of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction (1994) as they close in on what becomes the most brutal of all the killings. As what came before seems to be a test as the violence increases, emotions and characters tested. Nothing is left to chance as a cult group bring the two men to their knees.
As the director mentioned before, he wanted to stay fresh and try something new in his work. There is a clear desire to see violence at the films, it’s the mind-play that is at the forefront of it all. I keep thinking back to Sightseers which feels much more casual in how it goes about the plot, they just happen. Whilst here there is more thought behind the killings, the psychological effects on the killer, and the world they are taken into.
- John’s Horror Corner: Kill List (moviesfilmsandflix.com)
- Kill List (thenewfleshfilm.wordpress.com)
- Ben Wheatley dares to be different with the release of A Field in England (metro.co.uk)
- A Field in England Review (whatnotfilms.wordpress.com)
- Review: A Field in England is a creepy masterpiece (thedailyshift.com)
- Kill List – Spotlight on Ben Wheatley (1) (raspberrymedia.wordpress.com)
- Ben Wheatley- Director of Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers (rebelliousfilm.wordpress.com)
- 31 Days of Horror: Day 11- Kill List (2011) (thepeoplesmovies.com)