Monday, October 2, 2017

The Halloween List: Get Out and Gerald's Game

Get Out (2017)

Surely you’ve heard of Get Out by now. The movie about an African American dating a white girl, and going to visit her parents in their creepy gated community? Where black people have been disappearing, and later reappearing as meek  community members without any memory of their old identities?

If you didn’t know, it’s good.

I was unfair to Get Out at the cinema. I made the mistake of reading writer/director Jordan Peele’s artist’s statements about how this movie would subvert tropes like why protagonists never leave the house. Artist’s statements are dangerous, and the movie doesn’t give compelling reasons for its hero to not get the hell out of there.

But there’s no reason to get hung up on details like that unless you’re holding a grudge against a film’s creators, and Jordan Peele did a hell of a job on this movie. Even in the theater, with my petty biases, I was utterly won over by the end of the movie, which has one of the most satisfying series of reveals and knockdowns in Horror history. It keeps unfolding all its mysteries and gives people some necessary receipts.

Get Out lives and dies on Daniel Kaluuya’s subdued performance, as he’s constantly trying not to object to an utterly objectionable world. Early on it’s meeting his girlfriend’s “benignly racist” parents and being pulled over by the cops for nothing. By the end of the movie, it’s for utterly ridiculous SciFi nonsense that destroys most of the social commentary, but is cathartic and warped and fun.

It doesn’t deserve to be junked just because it doesn’t remain faithful to being “about” real racism for its full runtime. Stepford Wives can be socially cutting despite going to some ludicrous places, so why not this?

Get Out turns things into something that can be more explicitly fought in the grounds of Horror, and it does it damned well, and it does it near enough to reality that its ending manages to bounce back into one of the tensest, most painfully authentic moments in Horror cinema all year.

Gerald’s Game (2017)
I can’t stress enough how much I disliked the opening and was riveted by the close. By the end, I was literally chanting at the screen rooting for this woman to pull off her plan. But the movie opens on twenty-five minutes of a cringing, whining main character. The first part is as bad as the last part is good.

That’s the call you have to make because this is a premise a lot of people won’t want to watch. Jessie and Gerald’s marriage is failing, so they head off to their cabin in the woods to spice things up. Jessie is introverted, and behaves like someone who’s been browbeaten into submission her whole life. She isn’t comfortable when Gerald handcuffs her to the bed, but plays along until he starts roleplaying raping her. In the middle of an argument, Gerald dies of a heart attack. Jessie is left cuffed, with no one for miles around. There’s no way out.

The first twenty-five minutes are pure Second Hand Discomfort Porn, as Jessie is condescended to about feeding the wrong meat to a hungry dog, and tries to shy away from being groped, and pressured into a roleplay she clearly hates, and cries as she’s stuck to the bed with her husband dead on the floor.

There is nothing I hate more in film than prolonged crying. The sound tenses my muscles and annoys me. But there’s nothing I can do about it, and it’s so common that I just freaking wait for the plot to move on. Gerald’s Game takes a while to move on.

It doesn’t help that Carla Gugino plays Jessie as so tense that she feels like she’s going to shatter at the next unkind word. The part read as contrived to me, but her performance is necessary setup for where her character goes next. Gugino clearly knows what she’s doing.

Jessie has a breakdown and starts fantasizing about her husband talking to her. Then other versions of Jessie show up to voice dissent. She argues with these figments of her imagination, diving deeply into what is wrong with her life that she’d wind up here, and all the things she’s denied.

There is a scene where Jessie’s “other self” coaches her into reaching a glass of water that’s just out of range that is worth the entire trek. The power of her talking herself through something so simple and so hard could only work in film wit he “double self.”

The book thrives upon prose’s natural relationship with internal voices. It can all just happen in narration, and dialogue paragraphs bouncing back and forth. Staging this sort of thing for film must have been a challenge. It’s to the film’s credit that, after a couple minutes of acclimating to the delusions intruding on our reality, the film makes them seem perfectly natural.

The emotional journey she goes on, stewing with her own doubts, regrets, and repressed memories, is excruciating and brilliant. She forces herself out of that cultural prescribed fragile head space and towards methods of escape. They’re brutal, but she might be able to pull them off. Her big plan is the culmination of special knowledge very few people could put together – and only she can, because of all the crap she’s gone through in her life. No character in film this year earns their escape as much as Jessie.
But I’m not going to tell you if she makes it, or what she has planned. You have to see that for yourself, if it’s something you can watch.

Up next: The Transfiguration and A Dark Song


  1. I've heard great things about Get Out. Missed it in the theater but intend to watch it soon.

  2. You will be neither shocked nor suprised to learn I hadn't heard of either.

  3. I loved Get Out. Monster and I watched in a packed theater that was cheering the whole way through. It was so much fun!

    I hadn't heard of Gerald's Game. The ending sounds entriguing, but I couldn't make it through the beginning. Maybe if I fast-forwarded that part...


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