Get Out

Get Out can’t get out of its own way, stumbling from outstanding in-group out-group frights to Phantasm body-snatcher silliness.

With an opener depicting upper-crust suburbia as terrifyingly as the original Halloween, a random African American man is suddenly murdered walking  through a gated community. The tension is agonizing, compounded by teeth-chattering musical accompaniment.

Shifting gears to its whiz-bang Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner premise, Get Out reminds us that there’s lots of interesting territory to be mined here, and for the first third of the run-time, it is.

African American Chris (Daniel Kalyuua), and Caucasian girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), are off to meet her parents in a secluded house in the woods. Pops (Bradley Whitford) is a Dennis Hopper-ish glad-hander, who, along with wife Missy (Catherine Keener) are eager to show off their liberal bona fides. They’re both healthcare professionals, she’s a hynotherapist, and convinces Chris to try a smoking cessation session. In the film’s second high water mark, she probes Chris’ subconscious by having him recall childhood trauma, sending him into an abyss.

There’s some wicked simmering racial tension between between Chris and Rose’s slightly-built brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), who drunkenly boasts of the strength and power-negating properties of cerebral jiu-jitsu.

It’s riveting stuff, heightening Chris’ self-doubt about the family’s true intentions, heretofore half-concealed by dad’s “I would’ve voted for Obama for a third-term,” sycophancy and his girlfriend’s steadfast reassurance that they’re all good people.

The rest of Get Out is, however, as un-subtle as Night of the Living Dead was subtle (hell, even the poster is black and white with a line of demarcation down the centre). The family hosts a big party, and spate of new characters appear, diluting the twin-scares of woodsy isolation, doubly felt by a black protagonist who’s isolated-within-isolation.

The party-goers each voice boilerplate bigotry, from “I love Tiger Woods” faux solidarity, all the way to, “is it true, once you go Black,?” etc, etc.

Daniel Kalyuua’s Chris (who isn’t given much to do other than turning the other cheek, while cocking his head) contacts his buddy Rod (Lil Rel Howery) a few times, the latter serving as a plot/comedic device. Rod’s yuk injections about Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims aren’t nearly as “ruthlessly smart” as you’ve been told to believe.

In left-wing circles, Te-Nehisi Coates’ “black bodies” rhetoric is prevalent. But even if you weren’t familiar with the phrase, you’d be able to spot the related denouement a half mile down the road.

Ultimately, writer/director Jordan Peele, known for delivering laughs as half of Key & Peele, delivers half a splendid horror film here. It’s impossible not to be impressed by the opening charged atmosphere and characterization in his debut, just don’t be THAT impressed. He’s more than set himself up as someone to watch out for though.

***1/4 (out of 5)



Another fashion crime vomited up by the 80s, Witchboard is the brainchild of Kevin S. Tenney, who went on to do the similarly wacky, though better-crafted, Night of the Demons.

We begin at a party,and we get some horror right off the bat: the hair, the fringe jackets, and the dancing.

Then there’s a drunken argument in the corner about the origins of the universe, but neither Dr. Lawrence Krauss nor Dr. William Lane Craig can be found.

And you know where these seemingly intractable debates lead…fistfight? Search for common ground? No. A Ouija board. Like all psychics, we didn’t see that one coming!

One of the interlocutors (and self-described atheist) is Brandon, a pompous blowhard lawyer who drives a Beamer. He explains the etymology of the Ouija, apparently a portmanteau of French and German words for “yes.” If that were the case though, it would be pronounced “Wee-Ya.” No matter. He pulls out a board and claims he’s been communicating with the long-dead spirit of a boy, David. Partygoer Jim (Brandon’s nemesis, and a construction worker) calls bullshit.

Everything grinds to a halt at the party, because nothing is more exciting than Ouija. Linda (80s video vixen Tawny Kitaen) indulges Brandon and puts her hands on the planchette as they attempt to communicate with the Great Beyond.

Linda borrows the board and starts to become obsessed with it, and in her spare time talking to young David (who it turns out, after some fastidious research by Jim and Brandon, died in some kind of fire).

KD Lang, spirit medium

As is often the case, the spirit world is an angry place and the real world starts being affected by the otherworldly disaffection. One of Jim’s colleagues is killed by falling sheet-rock after an axe telekinetically lops off the safety supports. Petrified, they call in a psychic, who’s subsequently killed  (she didn’t see that one coming, another zing!)

Then it’s up to Brandon and Jim, once rivals for the heart of Linda, to save her from possession, or “progressive entrapment” as it’s called here, allusions to which were in The Exorcist.

Spirited stuff if you will, with unintended hilarity, crappy performances and a cool plot.

*** (out of 5)

[Check out our Really Awful Movies Podcast discussion of Witchboard]