Thursday 23 March 2017

Blackspot: "Get Out"

The relentless torrent of 21st century cinema/content being what it is, we may have forgotten that there's already been one update of 1967's landmark Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?: 2005's pretty flimsy Guess Who, which - in a low-conceptual reversal that tells you everything you need to know about the seriousness of its project - cast Ashton Kutcher in the Sidney Poitier outsider role, thereby making a square-jawed white dude the butt of all its negligible race jokes. One imagines the pricklier Get Out lodging in the collective consciousness a good deal longer. Comedian-turned-writer/director Jordan Peele's satirical chiller finds a poster couple for interracial relations - black photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and well-to-do white liberal Rose (Allison Williams) - headed to her parents' isolated country home for an impromptu family reunion, only for events to become curiouser and curiouser. 

Sure, the introductions are convivial enough: neurosurgeon pop Dean (Bradley Whitford) blithely informing Chris that he'd have voted for Obama a third time if he could have, therapist mom Missy (Catherine Keener) offering their houseguest hypnosis to help kick his smoking habit. Yet even the friendlier interactions unfold with an indefinable undertow of unease. Though we're half a world away and several social strata removed from the blunt-force racists of 2015's Green Room, an insidious energy persists around the colonially styled house and its sprawling yet neatly tended grounds: like us, Chris comes to be especially spooked by his hosts' all-black domestic staff, who appear frozen in time and place, with a muted panic in their eyes that screams exactly those words Peele enshrines in his title.

What follows merits careful spoiler-proofing, but Peele's theme would appear to be the myriad ways white folks have of making black people disappear: not just literally (as in the opening sequence, with its anxious echoes of the Trayvon Martin case), but by appropriating their culture (Dean proudly exhibits the array of ethnic art he's picked up on his travels) or otherwise reducing them to nothingness (visualised in Chris's blacker-than-black nightmares of being sent to "the Sunken Place" Missy refers to in her hypnosis sessions). Peele plays all his weirdness admirably straight, the better to see what it might illustrate or demonstrate about the weirdness of certain (not uncommon) attitudes: the film's creeping threat comes from seeing this house fill up with whiter and whiter faces, with their whiter and whiter hobbies (ukulele, bingo, lacrosse). This is a rare studio release to suggest how whiteness might be perceived as other, if not outright alien - a reversal beyond Guess Who, for one.

In a stronger-than-usual season for cinematic representation, it reads as doubly significant that a key plot point involves a camera being used to expose a truth about identity, and Get Out finds its own means of countering the modern multiplex's reputation as its own sunken place. Though the Caucasian parts are cast as smartly as those in the original Guess Who - that lovely Josh from The West Wing should be bugging our hero is unsettling enough; we also wonder when the monstrous white privilege Williams has captured on TV's Girls is likely to show through - it's the performers of colour who register most forcefully: Kaluuya does a nice line in resigned tolerance and increasingly rattled cool, while there's a knockout, crowdpleasing turn from stand-up Lil Rel Howery as a distractible TSA employee who turns unlikely hero as he tries to bring our boy back from the light side. As suspense writing, it's first-rate, challenging those old saws about black characters in horror movies while guardedly revealing what it is the antagonists want from Chris; as an item of mass entertainment emerging from America in the first months of 2017, Get Out is all but insurrectionary.

Get Out is now playing in cinemas nationwide.    

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