“Get Out” (2017): You Won’t Want To

Horror is far more socially conscious than people give it credit for. Since the days of George A. Romero, horror has been dabbling in much darker themes than gore and psychos. Issues of racism, feminism and governmental oversight have been seeped into the thrills and chills of horror for a while now, but it’s much rarer in mainstream releases as of recent years. Now, Jordan Peele of Key & Peele has sought to create a horror film that deals directly with the uncomfortable subject of race in Get Out. Peele clearly has a knowledge about the genre. The title Get Out alone shows that Peele is aware of how the audience will react to any number of typical horror tropes. So, the story and direction Peele has constructed is fully capable of subverting expectations.

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Keep in mind: despite his comedy background, Get Out isn’t a purely comedic exercise for Peele. There are plenty of funny moments, mainly from awkward family interactions and Lil Rel Howery’s hysterical comedic relief side character. However, the horror reigns supreme in Get Out, facing uncomfortable subjects without batting an eye. There are no moments of overt parody. Instead, Peele takes the horror context that many would be aware of and gives them a racial overtone that gives them an even more disturbing context. For example, the chilling opening sequence has shades of Halloween in terms of the suburban setting and creeping atmosphere. Yet, the actions at hand are somehow more unsettling than Michael Myers stalking a few teenagers, bringing up modern news stories without being too overt.

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Get Out ‘s racial targets are far more nuanced than one would expect. After all, the white family our lead Daniel Kaluuya is facing isn’t an overtly prejudice one. After all, Bradley Whitford‘s charming father character states himself that “he would have voted for Obama a third term” if he could. No, the racism that Get Out stews in is more directed toward the left that denies having any such perceptions. The type of subtle looks, gestures and words that try to present a post-racial society yet have every inkling of such behavior. That even I can admit to being guilty of in my own life. Kaluuya masterfully shows off his own subtly in reacting to all this, with the cool head of someone who’s experienced such behavior first hand and merely lets it go so as to not rock the boat.

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Thus, when things become far creepier, his reactions are far more astute and confused. Highlighting just how off putting all of this becomes in the process. Kaluuya acts as an intriguing audience surrogate that reveals the true nature of these other characters. He reveals Whitford’s obsessions that are much more conspicuous than intended. His scenes with Catherine Keener as the mother unveil a very uncomfortable power that’s displayed with unparalleled visual splendor by Peele. Even the interactions between Kaluuya and Allison Williams act as a comforting based for him. Keeping him sane while giving him an outlet to unload the past that constantly hangs over him. Get Out knows the trick that mainstream horror movies often fail to click into; empathy.

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That empathy is something that translates beyond mere engagement with the main characters. It’s the type of empathy that the liberal white characters have forgotten in their more selfish pursuits. The empathy that becomes muddled in pursuit of treating racial situations like they’re past the point of relevancy. That’s what Get Out geniusly strives for. To show that unintended lack of empathy and unveil it through this horror prism. It’s the kind of filmmaking that makes horror a far more palpable genre than its often given credit for. One that can take modern issues head on, but without preaching. It’s the perfect mix of entertainment and enlightenment that films in general can hope to mix, horror or otherwise.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Deer Antlers

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“A Cure for Wellness” (2017): Dodgy Treatment

Gore Verbinski makes weird movies. Movies that I’m often amazed get massive budgets. Even the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy he did was a very odd gamble that just happened to pay off. With A Cure for Wellness, that gamble is far bigger than usual. With no name stars, a weird premise and a very art house feel to the proceedings, A Cure for Wellness  had even less going for it marketing wise than Verbinski’s last film and disastrous flop The Lone Ranger. There’s a clear ambition on display, one that really couldn’t appeal to mainstream audiences in any fashion. But does that negate its ability to work within its own confines? Not really… Verbinski sort of does that to himself.

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There are a variety of influences on Verbinski with A Cure for Wellness. Shades of Ken Russell’s Altered States, a dash of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby with the score, even pinches of Requiem for a Dream with the more disturbing scenes of drug addled madness. Yet, Verbinski doesn’t deal with overt homage as much as he does a collage style pallet of influences that mold into his ultimate vision. One that is rather blunt and obvious, but never the less gorgeous and beautiful even in its irregularity. Moments like Mia Goth’s elaborate ballet to Swiss punk music. On it’s face, a rather blunt metaphor for a child-like woman entering an abrasive real world. In execution, it’s a wonderful singular moment that says so much about the character’s fragility and isolation even when surrounded by ogling strangers. There are moments like this where Verbinski showcases his amazing abilities as a visual storyteller, giving us everything we need to know without spelling things out.

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Then… he sabotages himself. With a runtime of nearly two and a half hours, so much of A Cure for Wellness is spent on such underwhelming scenes of characters simply expositing the plot to us. Having Dane DeHaan get information out of people about the mysterious past of this sanitarium. He’ll try to dress things up in a few visually interesting ways, but the ultimate goal is still this lengthy exposition that we really don’t need. The most effective scenes in A Cure for Wellness are just ones that set an airy atmosphere. Ones that take advantage of the eerie unsettling nature of this sanitarium as a way of drawing out the implications that lie within. These moments – and less of the ones that involve the ghastly CG – allow us to be sucked into this world and experience it along with Dane DeHaan. Especially as things become more brutal.

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One such moment is DeHaan staring at a painting. They tell us all that’s needed… and then Verbinski has to spell things out further. Dragging out a story that’s honestly sort of flimsy on its own face anyhow. Making DeHaan so much of a backseat protagonist that mainly strives to get the plot motioning. Even his arc about turning from a corporate tool into a caring human being feels so tacked on whenever it’s brought up. It doesn’t help that DeHaan seems pretty lost on a performance level. Sometimes he’s channelling Jack Nicholson. Other times he’s doing his best Leo impression. Occasionally, he actually gets to be an actual individual character. Mia Goth is honestly the stand out performance, managing to have so much believable anguish and innocence packed into her mostly silent yet incredibly vulnerable face. Oh, and Jason Isaacs is Jason Isaacs as usual with a Swiss accent. Take of that what you will.

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There’s also a grimy sexual angle that will likely turn many off of A Cure For Wellness as things sort of continue along. This certainly isn’t a film for those off put by some extremely disturbing sexual connotations. There’s plenty of phallic imagery with the various eels and the sort of imposed woman-child nature of Mia Goth’s character. The implications are disturbing, but very much an intentional decrying of putting such a role on a woman as sheltered as she is. It’s uncomfortable, but in a way that feels very purposefully decried by the themes. Where old guard ideas of how to cure others are used to keep them docile. It’s a shame that they have to keep the usual “is this a delusion or not” narrative continuing from there to cloud that theme in needless confusion. Especially as the film continues on its multitude of false endings.

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Ultimately, A Cure for Wellness is a mixed bag of a mess. The kind of mixed bag that could only come from someone as ambitious and wild as Gore Verbinski. The production design, thematic imagery and sterile terror here say so much, but Verbinski still undercuts things by having to over explain this relatively simple narrative. One moment, it’s brilliant. The next it’s moronic. With a tighter structure, A Cure for Wellness could have easily been an underrated all timer. Instead, it’s a bloated and intermittently brilliant heap of ideas strung together without a necessary cohesion or pacing.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Eels

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“John Wick Chapter 2” (2017): More Action, Less Elegance

John Wick was film that succeeded because of its simplicity. Keanu Reeves played a former assassin who wanted to quit after his wife dies. Her dying gift to help him grieve is an adorable puppy. A Russian mob boss’ son messes with John and kills his puppy. John seeks vengeance without restraint and the help of a shadowy assassin organization. It was a wonderfully simply yet surprisingly genuine premise to allow for mayhem and madness to unfold. Particularly with the sleek & brutal gun-fu. It was one of 2014’s bigger surprises. So much so that it now has a second chapter. John Wick Chapter 2 decides to open up the world a bit more, giving us a larger peek into the organization so as to raise the stakes for Mr. Wick’s second return from retirement. A noble idea for a sequel, given the few hints at what Ian McShane was doing in the first were intriguing. However, this second chapter in the saga does show that less is definitely more in that department.

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Many action films these days suffer from a balance of plot and action. Some overemphasize the other to the point of losing the characters in between. While this second chapter in the John Wick saga doesn’t quite go that far, it definitely does lose something in the mix. We see the reach of this program go much farther than before, to the point of overshadowing the actions. Hell, most of the first act (aside from an exciting opening car chase) is actionless, spending time building up this plot. Of course, the film’s major interest is really the action. We’ll get to that. But it’s important to note that this first act of setting into motion John’s motivations for such actions. And it doesn’t feel nearly as powerful as the more simplistic motives of the previous chapter.What John loses here is far more material and less investing to see him go to these large lengths.

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Part of that is quite frankly due to Riccardo Scamarcio as our villain. With the original John Wick, the scruffy arrogance of Alfie Allen and erratic scene chewing of Michael Nyqvist were far more entertaining to watch lead the charge of the various goons that came after John. Scamarcio comes off as more of an elegant retread of Allen, with all the arrogance and none of the smarmy anti-charm that made him so worth hating. He’s a charisma-less catalyst for the action, which makes the scenes of him confronting John in that first act feel so flat. Thankfully, they’re at least cushioned by some a comedic set up between Keanu and Peter Serafinowicz.

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If it seems like I’m railing against John Wick Chapter 2 too hard, there’s plenty still to enjoy. After the plot finally settles, the action takes over with brute force. The propulsive nature of the action from the previous film was a glorious display, only matched by the continued lush cinematography and lighting. There’s even more variety here in terms of the action. The first John Wick mainly consisted of headshots. The headshots return here, but are combined with gory hand to hand combat and brutal stunt work. The type that director Chad Stahelski knows so well from his years in stunt work. This particularly becomes the case when Wick comes into full on badass mode during the second act, murdering in quick succession a plethora of assassins in a lead up to this Hall of Mirrors climax.

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There’s also a strong cast that commits fully to the silly action and brutal impacts. Keanu carries over his silent-but-furious energy he had from the first film. The type of expert stone faced energy that only Keanu could perfectly bring to life time and time again. He has such a phenomenal lack of concern for anything that’s happening, walking away from disaster with a calm head that only becomes unhinged when he has to destroy someone. That energy is also kept by those around Keanu playing assassins with distinctive personalities. There’s Common matching wits with him. There’s Ruby Rose being sleek & deadly without saying a single word. Laurence Fishburne reunites with his Matrix trilogy co-star with this “King of the Hobos” character that’s delightfully over the top.

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Ultimately, John Wick Chapter 2 deserves a lot of credit for not managing to repeat the beats of the first. With a premise as simple as the first film, this could have easily been a complete retread. With all the problems in over complicating the plot unnecessarily, this set up for the action is still intriguing enough to set up John’s eventual wave of destruction. Plus, despite some issues with the finale, it seems as if the set up for a supposed final chapter would give Mr. Wick quite an uphill battle to fight against. One that would make a worthy closer to this universe. Hopefully, that film comes to fruition and allows us to see Keanu to have a solid trilogy for once.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Bloody Pencils

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