Black In The USA
In a wonderful sequence of faith I was recently able to see the forthcoming and incredibly outstanding documentary ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ (2016) directed by Raoul Peck and written by James Baldwin (one of America’s finest ever writers) who wrote and spoke most of his life about racial issues in the USA. He was compelled to do it as he is a black man living in what he/we are relentlessly told is a white man’s world.
A week or so prior to the documentary I saw the brilliantly made and very enjoyable ‘Get Out’ (2017) directed by Jordan Peele. It’s his first time behind the camera, but he’s a highly established and rightly well loved American comedian as part of the sketch show ‘Key & Peele’, both of whom had a very funny turn in last years delight ‘Keanu’ (2016).
I’ll be reviewing the documentary closer to release, but I had been thinking whilst watching it that it shows the real face of horror (a massive gang of ‘presentable’ clean cut Norman Rockwellesque American kids tormenting and abusing a young black girl on her way to school) and that it would be the perfect double bill and percussor to watching ‘Get Out’. It gives you such a palpable empathy (in as much is possible) to the complete onslaught of aggression (overt and subtle) that permeates American society to anyone who isn’t white, right down to the simplest of words or actions. If you have experienced that tension your entire life, everything seems to be a potential threat, as it probably is.
It’s that underlying tension that Peele has captured beautifully in his directorial debut. There has been loads of media hype around the movie given it’s apparent subject of racism, a black kid visiting his white girlfriend’s parents out in a wealthy countryside mansion. That in itself is genius marketing that creates an unease in the viewer before the film starts rolling, but the movie is much more than that.
Chris Washington (the superb Daniel Kaluuya), and a great choice of surname too, is a young photographer wrapped up in the throws of early love and excitement with the perfect, fun and vibrant Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), who are embarking on a truly horrific journey, meeting your partner’s parents for the first time. That immediately relatable horror story that we’ve all experienced, and not everyone survives.
To add to the tension, Rose is white, which while she doesn’t seem to see any issues, Chris has a life time of experiences that have conditioned him to see otherwise, ie the truth, or least a truth. Or is he projecting his experiences on to everything around him?
It’s that play on perceptions that Peele (he wrote the movie too) works stunningly into the events. Chris immediately is on edge (as is the viewer) as he waits for the inevitable awkward racial comment or slur. And you don’t have to wait long, they come thick and fast. Or do they? Is everything that’s being said meant in a derogatory way, is it just a misinterpretation, or is it gas lighting? The confusion only adds to the general unease, and it’s masterfully done, played out.
Rose’s family are all beautifully captured by some fantastic toned down presentable acting by mum (Catherine Keener), dad (Bradley Whitford) and a wonderfully edgy brother (Caleb Landry Jones), all clearly a modern liberal American family (though they look a bit Aryan, or do they?). Even the dad would have voted for Obama if there was a third term. But as in the best of David Lynch, does civility mask evil like a lace doily covering a pool of blood?
Chris’ initial paranoia starts to escalate in credibility though when certain events start to happen, things steadily go from slightly amiss, to WHAT THE BLOODY HELL!?
It’s not all true horror though, although there is plenty of that. There’s some brilliant ideas and concept throughout, but there’s also some seriously funny comedy, none more so than Chris’ mate Rod Williams (comedian Lil Rel Howry) who extremely proudly works for the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) that has imbued him with a beautiful mix of pride, can do mentality, and a belief of Columbo detective work abilities. There really should be a movie based on his exploits alone.
Like the best work of mentalist and illusionist Derren Brown there are nuggets of suggestions along the way that steer you in various directions, or at least make you think in a certain way that only add to the whole experience, keeping you in a perpetual discomfort, nor anticipating events.
There’s blatant moments too, particularly the opening sequence which embeds the movie which such contemporary and historical context that in itself is terrifying. And was the choice of a white Porsche deliberate? I bloody hope so.
As I said there’s loads of hype surrounding the movie, I don’t support the extreme levels of it, but this is a very fine, very well made, looks and sounds great, it’s wonderfully intelligent, shrewd, funny as hell, dark satire of modern life in the USA. Chuck Berry once wrote in the song Back In the U.S.A. ‘Well, I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A.’. Peele flips and turns that line into the basis of a horror movie. It’s ridiculously good for a first time director and he has no doubt got some stunning stories in his headspace, I can’t wait to see them all.
8/10 ‘Get Out’ is in cinemas from 17th March.