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Get Out (2017)

24 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

In the horror film “Get Out,” a white woman, Rose (Allison Williams) takes her black boyfriend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), to the countryside to introduce him to her family. They’re all accommodating, seemingly well-meaning white people who try to make Chris feel welcome, but something feels wrong. Things start off as awkward when Rose’s liberal parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) and jock brother (Caleb Landry Jones) deliver one cringe-inducing (albeit benign) race-related comment after another. But when Chris meets the only other black people in town, he notices odd behaviors about them, which causes discomfort that only raises when the family’s friends gather at the house for a picnic…and that’s all I’ll say about “Get Out.” If you haven’t seen the trailer, just see this movie—the less you know about the story, the better.

That’s as much of the story as I’ll describe here, so I’ll just continue with the review. “Get Out” is the debut feature of writer-director Jordan Peele, best-known for comedic acting & writing, especially for the sketch comedy series “Key & Peele.” I’d say it’s an interesting departure for Peele to make a film like this, but then again, a good chunk of the first 45+ minutes of “Get Out” reminded me of a prolonged “Key & Peele” sketch, in which race relations (or lack thereof) is a factor and there is humor to be found in the sheer awkwardness/discomfort of one moment after the other. And the humor is also there to offset the more uncomfortable moments that leave audiences believing there is something wrong here but not knowing what it is, what will happen, when it will happen, and so on—to get to its ultimate final act, the audience has to endure one awkward moment after another as they try to determine what’s really happening here. The best way to relieve tension in these scenes is with laughter.

“Get Out” is a great mix of comedy and horror. It’s not downright satiric nor does it become overly serious; it’s just the right amount of both that entertains and also makes nearly every stomach in the theater churn. Peele is a bright-enough filmmaker that he’s actually able to approach the material with as much discretion as possible to make it work. He also doesn’t go too deeply into the subject of race relations and the pomposities and resentment that can sometimes come into play. He does have something to say about it all, but overall, it’s used to craft a unique story that I think Peele does a brilliant job putting together.

He gets great aid from his actors as well. Daniel Kaluuya is easily relatable as a man feeling out of place without knowing precisely why. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener as both funny and chilling, whenever they need to be each (or both). And I can’t neglect to mention the comedic highlight of the movie, and that is Lil Rey Howery as Rod, Chris’ best friend who is able to conduct his own detective work when Chris calls him via cellphone with clues. He provides the film’s biggest laughs himself.

What does all the oddness and awkwardness amount to? I won’t give it away here, but what I will say is much is revealed with effective twists, and while the final act may be paced a little too slow, I have to credit it for making me even more tense as I was A) waiting for answers and B) desperately wanting Chris to make it out the messed-up situation once those answers were revealed (and C) making me want to see the movie again, now that I have the answers). As is the case with the best slow-burn thrillers, I can’t wait to see “Get Out” again, knowing what I know now. And in addition, I also can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele comes up with next.

Split (2017)

20 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I never lost faith in M. Night Shyamalan. He gets a bad rap because his failures failed tremendously, especially taking his earlier successes into account. But that’s really not fair because other famous directors have gone through career slumps and came back from them; yet for some reason, it’s “cool” to make fun of Shyamalan. I knew some day, he would find himself back on the right track. With his previous film, “The Visit,” he seemed to find his footing, and even though it wasn’t “great,” it was still a welcome return for Shyamalan after such disappointing messes as “The Happening,” “After Earth,” and especially “The Last Airbender.” It was like he let the studio system corrupt him after he’d done many good things for it (particularly “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” and “Signs”), and he made a smaller movie in an attempt to find the magic of filmmaking again.

Shyamalan’s follow-up to “The Visit” is another “small movie” called “Split,” and while I don’t think it’s quite up there with “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” or “Signs,” it still shows us why we held Shyamalan in high regard in the first place. This is an imaginative, tense, even funny psychological-thriller that shows the talent of M. Night Shyamalan on display.

“Split” begins as three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, Haley Lu Richardson as Claire, and Jessica Sula as Marcia) are abducted by an odd man (James McAvoy). While kept in an underground bunker of sorts, they find that he’s a man of many personalities. It turns out he has dissociative identity disorder, with 23 different personalities (a few of which we get to meet, like mischievous 9-year-old Hedwig, feminine Ms. Patricia, and obsessive-compulsive Dennis). But there seems to be a 24th personality awakening soon—one the others refer to as “the Beast,” who will “feed” on the three girls. Meanwhile, as the man has frequent sessions with psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley, the self-proclaimed “crazy old lady from ‘The Happening’”), Dr. Fletcher has to figure out what exactly “the Beast” is before it’s too late.

(And that’s as far as I’ll go in describing the story. Don’t worry—this review is spoiler-free.)

Shyamalan still has tricks up his sleeve when it comes to the plot. There are many neat twists and turns in his storytelling; the more that was discovered about what’s really happening here, the more tense everything became. By the time this film reached its final act, I was on-edge, with goosebumps that wouldn’t go away until the film ended…and even then, I had trouble shaking it off. Good job, Shyamalan.

Almost a majority of “Split” is kept in this undisclosed location somewhere underground (flashbacks of last year’s “10 Cloverfield Lane”), and with Shyamalan’s direction as well as the superb cinematography by Mike Gioulakis, it’s easy to feel the confinement and the anxiety of each situation that comes.

Shyamalan also isn’t afraid to make us laugh at times, particularly when it comes to the weirdness of the disorder and how the girls react to it in both confusion and fear. Some of the comedic bits belong to the personality of Hedwig, the 9-year-old troublemaker within McAvoy…as well as some of the most frightening bits.

James McAvoy takes center-stage, and he turns in a brilliant performance as a man of many identities. McAvoy has a complicated task to pull off, differentiating each personality from the other (and the other…and the other…), and he amazingly succeeds. This is an actor’s dream come true, and McAvoy goes all out for this role. One particular moment for which I have to commend McAvoy is a close-up shot in which he instantly transitions from one role to another—how he did that, I would love to know.

Of the three girls, only Anya Taylor-Joy (who was also very good in “The Witch”) makes an impression. She plays Casey, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time after being invited to a birthday party of one of the two other girls out of pity (and she was riding home with the others when they were captured). As the film starts, we see her as an uninteresting, stereotypical outsider-girl. But as the film continues, we get glimpses into her past to make us understand more of who she is, which makes us glad for moments when she starts to grow as she tries to find ways out of each predicament in this claustrophobic hellhole. Even when we’re questioning why she doesn’t do certain things at times, we get to understand it better, the more we find out about her.

However, the other two girls (Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) aren’t given the same treatment. I didn’t particularly care for them, as they were only there to cry, cower, and say obvious things like “we have to get out of here” and “I’m scared”. Granted, we don’t want to see anything bad happen to them, but they don’t do much to make us care much for them either.

I would love to talk about the final moment. But again, this review is spoiler-free and there aren’t any hints or clues or anything given by me. All I will say about it is it will delight people and annoy others—I have to say, it took me a while to think about how I felt about it, but I couldn’t help but admire it. I even bought it more after thinking about it. That’s all I’ll say about it…but, by God, I’d love to talk about it! (Sorry, lost myself for a moment there.)

M. Night Shyamalan is having fun with his movies again, and it definitely shows with “The Visit” and “Split,” two inventive thrillers. Since “Split” is, by definition, probably more intriguing than “The Visit” (and that was a damn fun movie), then it’s safe to say that Shyamalan is back in the game. “Split” has its problems (including a slow first act), but as it progresses, it becomes a neat thriller that reminds us of what Shyamalan can do when he puts his heart and soul into it. Let’s hope he keeps up the good work in the future.