Get Out: Terror, Tension, and Race in the Modern Horror

Published March 5, 2017 by rmpixie

getout

Get Out (Blumhouse Productions, 1 hr 43 mins., 2017)

The buzz has been on about Get Out since late last year when it was announced that Jordan Peele, award-winning comedian and actor know for the hit comedy series Mad TV and co-creator of Key and Peele, had written and directed his first film, and not only was it a horror, but it carried a message . The hype machine ran rampant with accolades as usual, but this time, it was right. He’s made an excellent horror film that illustrates an everyday fear and paranoia once thought to be exaggerated by most, but now (one would hope) most likely understood by all in today’s politically and racially charged world.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is a young photographer preparing to spend the weekend with his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). They plan to visit her parents out of town, and Chris is concerned because Rose, and her family, are white, and he is black. When she reassures him that her parents will happily accept him into the fold, they head up her family estate. After a jarring experience hitting a deer and dealing with suspicious local police, Chris attempts to keep his cool as he is interrogated by Rose’s parents Missy and Dean Armitage (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) and her strange brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). Things get even more awkward when a yearly party with their old school family friends conveniently takes place during their weekend visit.

Chris feels not only alienated and scrutinized during his time with Rose, her family, and their white friends, but also that something isn’t quite right. When his interactions with the extremely odd black house staff Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and a black guest (Lakeith Stanfield) at the party go south, his “spidey” senses tell him all isn’t as it seems at the Armitage gathering.

Get Out bridges horror with a mixture of Hitchcock-style suspense and Twilight Zone weirdness, nailing the daily horrors of being a person of colour navigating a systemically racist society at large. The social commentary was so well done that everyone person of colour can nod their heads as they relate to the micro aggressions in the film that are dealt with daily, in fact, there are many themes I want to touch on, but I’ll try to make each observation brief.

A young African-American man, an anti-everyman who is both feared and envied, as the vessel to convey the current social climate was bold, brilliant and well needed. Not since Night of the Living Dead’s Ben (Duane Jones) and that film’s supposed accidental social commentary during the Civil Rights era have we seen such a memorable character. Chris embodies the aspirations of every young Black man and woman who just wants to live unafraid and with all the same opportunities afforded to everyone else in the country touted as “the land of the free”. It’s a heavy load to bear, but Kaluuya plays the character to a “T”. I first saw him as a teenager in a British series called The Fades, where he played the best friend of a boy who had supernatural powers. Kaluuya was hysterically funny then, and his humour has matured with his portrayal of Chris that dripped with irony, while capturing the sincerity and sensitivity of a young man at odds with his acceptance in a literal and figurative sense. I also thought it was clever to make Chris a photographer as we see through his literal lens and point of view. Chris’s friend Rod (LilRey Howery) creates comic relief not to be missed as he personifies Chris’s inner voice telling it like it is. He’s a throwback to the “Black person in a horror film” joke. I was also thrilled to see Erika Alexander from the 90’s sitcom Living Single as the detective Rod tries to enlist for help.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the Armitages as well. Keener and Whitford played the slightly off liberal parents with a subversive finesse, bringing to light Peele’s skill at writing them with a complexity that is not often expressed properly. Here, they represented the ingrained ignorance of whites as they assert their supremacy over people of colour without any thought to the person in front of them. It’s a brilliant display of how intent is often masked with a cloak of inclusivity, but only on their terms. While a generalization of White society, it also embodies how Blacks, and people of colour in general, have to pick our battles daily while struggling to keep and define our identities at the same time.

Peele’s use of an interracial relationship as the vehicle for his premise is a no-brainer. Where else can you question your place in society than with two people taking a chance and presenting themselves in the world as they defy archaic social norms? It plays on the paranoia, defensiveness and potentially hidden agendas for those involved in interracial relationships.

Lastly, the film is visually simple and clean, with nice camerawork and set design that stood out as effective signifiers of old money and privilege. He also treated Chris’s loss of control with dream-like sequences that were some of my favourite scenes and reminded me of the underrated Under the Skin.

Jordan Peele succeeds in giving us a smart, well-written thriller/horror filled with a great balance of tongue-in-cheek humour and a viscerally intense uneasiness. Without giving away spoilers, he captures the need for the incessant and historic commodification, exploitation  and abuse of African-American lives (literally and figuratively) with no consequence felt by those exploiters in this supposedly “post-racial” world.

See Get Out and discuss how it makes you feel with everyone you can. Perhaps a film created in a genre that is not usually accepted about a historically ostracized/demonized/shunned yet culturally mined people can open the doors to some sort of social justice, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see the face of mainstream horror (and film at large) change.

Grace Hallworth and the Oral Traditions of Trinidadian Ghost Stories and Tall Tales

Published February 22, 2017 by rmpixie

Last year, I gained a new co-worker that turned out to be my sister from another mister. We share a lot of similar experiences, good and bad, and also a Trinidadian heritage. When computer glitches made us scream out in frustration, my lovely co-worker would stage whisper “Obeah!”, eliciting uncontrollable giggles from both of us. Obeah is a West Indian term for witchcraft and general supernatural trickery, often thrown into conversation in a West Indian household with a casual knowing, as if every little thing was explained by that one word.

When she brought me a book on folklore from Trinidad, I squealed! Entitled “Mouth Open Story Jump Out” (which basically means you feel free to gossip or tell tales), this book contains all the stories my mother and grandmother used to tell my sisters and I, either to scare us into good behaviour or just freak us out in general. I could once again read about “La Diablesse” or “The Suocouyant”; remembering how frightened I was when the women in my family would recount the “true” stories from the Trinidadian backwoods, otherwise known as “the bush”. This book inspired me to dedicate a post for Black History Month and Women in Horror Month to Grace Hallworth, a Trinidadian storyteller who carries on the tradition of the island’s folktale and ghost stories in both the written and spoken word.

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Hallworth, retired librarian, has a number of children’s books under her belt. Born in Trinidad and moving to England in 1956, her storytelling and writing would honour the tradition of Trinidadian folktales for decades. There isn’t a lot of information on her since she is senior and now resides in a retirement home northwest of London, but she is still active and celebrated within the storytelling community and a great reference for those in the children’s literature and academia world.

Storytelling is ingrained in our human DNA; from the beginning of civilization it has brought us together, connecting us and keeping our traditions and cultures alive through the spoken word, song, dance and pantomime.  It is an exercise in remembering ancestry, entertainment and community in one fell swoop.  In island culture, a simple gathering can result in stories about aunts, uncles, cousins and all the weird and wonderful things they encounter in ” Nancy” stories, a word spawned from the original tall tale figure Anansi, the trickster spider from West African tales.

The stories I remember most were the aforementioned “La Diablesse”, a hoofed woman who leads men astray and “The Suocouyant” an old woman who becomes a ball of light and sucks the blood of humans and animals. I thought about these ominous figures in an abstract way, in the same way a kid thinks about the devil or the boogeyman. These were our boogeymen, or women as the story goes. They were ours and everyone else’s it seems, as these phantoms went by other names across the world, like the Phillipines blood sucker The Aswang and the Succubus who keeps company with The Soucouyant, who in turn shares similarities with the Spook Lights featured in Eden Royce’s collections of Southern gothic horror. Even the Loup Garou, or werewolf, stays the same in France and the West Indies. It never occurred to me then how connected these tales were until I started to write about horror themes critically.

Before each set of stories, Hallworth writes a paragraph or two describing the traits of these entities in the chapter, giving a context to the oral tale. You can see a common thread with the spirits and demons that only makes sense since Trinidad and Tobago are like many Caribbean islands that have a long history of colonization. On top of the indigenous people of the islands, settlers from Europe, Africa, The United Kingdom, South Asia and China came in as well, so there is no wonder that some phantoms share the same traits as their originators back on their home shores.  It’s actually comforting to know that Hallworth worked to validate and document these folktales so that they could stand with their global counterparts in unity as they scare children worldwide.

Hallworth preserves regional dialect or patois, traditions and nostalgia as well as the tales themselves.  Some of the stories provide a moral like be careful what you wish for or living in harmony with the natural world, and some were just meant to scare the bejesus out of you.  It is a feat the can’t be done without some effort, but she takes these oral traditions and commits them to the page with an ease that makes me hear my mother and grandmother’s voices as I read the words. At the very least, it would be a treat to hear Hallworth herself recite these tales, as she will still do from time to time in the English libraries and schools even though she is reportedly in her late 80’s.

As kids become more sophisticated with electronics and adult life readily at their fingertips, it’s comforting to know this little book of Nancy stories persists on library shelves so the original monsters under the bed or at our windows don’t fade away.  I am grateful for Grace Hallworth because it is through her book that I remember my mother (my original woman in horror) and my heritage.  She is a storyteller, writer, children’s author and an honorary woman in horror for preserving these tales.

Grace Hallworth is a patron for The Society of Storytelling in the U.K. and has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2016 and 2017.

For a list of all her books, check here.

Crazyhead’s Raquel: Susan Wokoma, Women in Horror and the Next Generation of Slayers

Published February 20, 2017 by rmpixie

crazyhead

Crazyhead (Netflix, 2016)

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) was a phenomenon that continues to live on. A TV series spawned from the 1992 cult film, the fandom for a spunky high school student and her crew of friends as they battled vampires, demons and other supernatural fare while dealing with real issues knew no bounds, and new fans of her quest to save the world from creepy crawlies spring up even to this day.

Enter a new generation of shows that have found a home on Netflix. Here, writers and directors have the free reign to offer more than your local cable provider with shows like smash hits Stranger Things (2016), Luke Cage (2016), and Daredevil (2015). There’s also room and the desire for many international contributions as well, including the 2016 comedy horror from E4, Crazyhead.

Crazyhead is the story of Amy (Cara Theobold) and Raquel (Susan Wokoma), two young women who suffer from what doctors think is a mental illness. They see things – people with demonic faces – and are continually told that it’s all in their heads. When they meet one night after a frightening attack and realize they both see the same thing, they join forces to destroy these demons on earth. Raquel also has a special lineage that makes her of interest to the devilish clan, and along with Amy’s perverse puppy-dog of a friend Jake (Lewis Reeves), they go through some crazy hijinks to find answers and not get killed.

With this being Women in Horror and Black History Month, I must focus on British-Nigerian Susan Wokoma, the woman behind the off-the-hook Raquel. I first noticed her in hysterically funny and outrageous Chewing Gum (2015-2017) as the main character’s religious and fearful sister Cynthia. Her performance kept me laughing and cringing, and I was thrilled when I saw her in Crazyhead. Here, she once again kills with one liners and holds her own as the sharp-tongued and zero-filtered but vulnerable Raquel, who just wants to kick some demon ass and figure out life as a young woman with this unbelievable vocation. Wokoma breathes a vibrancy into the character that allows her to take up space and be present, even declaring at one point that she deserves better from Amy since she is a “strong, powerful black woman.” Even though Raquel has issues connecting with people and making friends, she has a great relationship with her patient brother Tyler (Arinzé Kene), full of playful jabs, sibling rivalry and lots of love. I also applaud the writer Howard Overman for making her confident in the way she looks and her space as an attractive black woman. Raquel gets “hers”, she is sexual, she is attractive and doesn’t look to others for validation, even though she may be looking for love. It is refreshing to see a black female character in a leading role own her sexuality in a healthy, non-stereotypical way like it was meant to be treated; like it always had a place at the table. North America should take note of this representation of female sexuality in general.

 

Her counterpart Amy is the perfect foil for her zany observations and plans with Amy’s voice of reason as a helpful, if ignored, counter argument for Raquel’s actions. Together they are a believable representation of young women in today’s world trying to carve out a space for themselves while dealing with the trials of being “normal”. This brings to light a couple of things: it shows how as a woman, your mental health is sometimes glossed over with medications and misunderstanding, and how once they found each other, Amy and Raquel’s bond strengthened their courage and belief in themselves. Although they have some rocky moments in their relationship, it is a real sisterhood.  In terms of mental illness, the title is a touch misleading as they are not actually mentally ill but battling supernatural forces.  They are however, at the mercy of either indifferent mental health professionals or ones that have an agenda.  Either way, this brings out how those living with mental illness may go mismanaged or pushed out of the medical system without much thought to their situation.

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Crazyhead is a comparable British counterpart to Buffy. It holds it’s own as a show, but it wouldn’t be here if Buffy hadn’t blazed a trail, and that’s ok. Joss Whedon paved the way for shows to push the envelope and have fun doing it.  Like Whedon, Crazyhead’s  writer and producer Howard Overman ensures that the dialogue is sharp and funny with a good amount of raunch, and thanks to the cast members, the delivery is on point.  He’s worn the same hats and worked his magic for The Adventures of Merlin (2008-2012), as well as being the creator for The Misfits (2009-2013), Atlantis (2013-2015), and the UK Dirk Gently (2010-2012). Each of these series has come in with a bang, created a huge following and left before they overstayed their welcome. I have complete confidence that Crazyhead will do the same and make a lasting memory in the world of #BlackGirlMagic as well as in the minds of horror comedy fans for years to come.

Crazyhead is streaming on Netflix now, so do yourself a favour and watch!

Face Off Season 11 Episode 4: “Snow Queens”

Published February 16, 2017 by rmpixie

With all the snow burying the Eastern U.S. and Canada in the past week, it was only fair that the all-stars got a taste of the white stuff too this episode!

McKenzie brought winter to L.A. with real snow waiting for the artists as she introduced this week’s Elimination Challenge. Like the Snow Queens from The Chronicles of Narnia and Once Upon a Time, they had to create their own powerful, unique and beautiful queens inspired by a snowflake. The catch was they had two days instead of three to create their looks and they had to find their snowflakes that were buried in the snow surrounding them. Since some of the artists had never seen snow before, they had an impromptu snowball fight after the search, and then got to work.

Logan and Adam loved the shape of their snowflake and decided to bring a Warrior Queen to life. Logan worked on the cowl while Adam fabricated her armour. It was their turn to find a crack in their mold. They wanted to use silicone for their look and decided to still use it despite the crack and instead of the safer polyfoam to keep the integrity of their concept. Logan used a stencil to convey cracked ice, and they presented  a complete look for the reveal stage. Their Snow Queen was beautiful and fierce. The judges loved the tonal differences with the colours and Glen thought it was the best use of stencilling that he had ever seen on the show. Ve loved the profile and the dark lips which brought out her eyes. They were in top looks with Kiva the Amazon Mountain Queen.

George and Cig wanted to paint a frostbitten look directly on the model’s skin and layer silicone on top for an icy effect. Mr. Westmore thought it was an interesting concept, but cautioned them against using dark makeup underneath as it could be distracting, especially on the tip of her nose. George vaccuformed the lab skeleton to create a really cool sceptre with half a skull and spine. They painted the model with blues, purples and greens to create that frostbitten look and it showed up well through the silicone. I thought the face was too much with the icicle effect. The judges felt the jaw was too masculine and didn’t really fit the challenge, however, they were safe.
Niko and Cat were inspired by their snowflake and the Statue of Liberty. They created an Ice Sculpture Queen. Cat would sculpt the hair and Niko would do the brow piece. Mr. Westmore felt the hair would be too heavy unless it was made out of foam latex. They fabricated an ice torch and collar, but the collar proved to be an issue as it bumped up against the sculpted hair and they scrapped it. The look was simple but the judges didn’t like it. They though sculpting hair was a waste of their time, and it was uninspired and too literal with the Statue of Liberty reference. It also didn’t really look like the snowflake they chose. They were in bottom looks.

Tyler and Emily created an Evergreen Ice Queen. Emily sculpted a wooden chest similar to a corset. She paints landscapes for a living so this was familiar territory for her and understood textures. Mr. Westmore suggested doing a wash of paint to pull out the tree bark look in the sculpt. She also created a headband of branches to add to the hair. Their Evergreen Snow Queen in the midst of a thaw wowed the judges. The loved melting effect and Glenn thought the frozen tree aspect was brilliant. Ve loved the colours they used and thought it was movie set ready. Their complex thinking got them into top looks.

Ben and Evan also went with an Evergreen Snow Queen. They struggled with their concept but finally decided on a crystallized look. They also wanted to make her dark, like black ice. Mr. Westmore told them to keep beauty makeup light. They were really behind and had to apply a prosthetic during last looks which is really risky, plus finish their paint job. I liked the headpiece, but the judges thought the look was a misstep. Even thought Neville got the black ice concept, they still thought it was too dark and the chin piece looked like a beard. As luck would have it, they were safe.

Rachel and Gage found a snowflake that looked regal, so they created an Elemental Queen with ice spires. They vaccuformed the spiny pieces and sculpted prosthetics around them. Rachel also incorporated LED lights into the hair. They had to fix the facial prosthetic to even it out, but they created an acceptable look. The judges liked the concept more than the execution, and the beauty makeup could have been better on the character’s eyes, but they were safe.

Keaghlan and Melissa liked the idea of shards of crystals on their queen. They also made icicles but they had to make sure they didn’t look like horns as Mr. Westmore pointed out. They had to paint them silver to match the eyes. In last looks, Keaghlan felt the queen was too androgynous. On the reveal stage, the judges thought the queen’s brow bone was too low. The proportions were too masculine as well. Neville didn’t like the crystals as he felt you couldn’t tell what they were. They were in the bottom looks.

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The winners were Emily and Tyler for their great choices, execution and exquisite character.

The team going home was unfortunately Niko and Cat! They were the cutest, but the judges felt that at this point, one misstep would eliminate you. Ve was quite emotional and told them it was a very difficult decision. The artists were also really upset, but the tiny couple that could weren’t fazed and were determined to carry on with their business and love for their craft.

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