Blumhouse Productions

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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.

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Face Off Season 10 Episode 13: The Big Finale Part 1: “Sinister Showdown”

Published April 7, 2016 by rmpixie

Season 10 would end with my kind of challenge!!  The 3 finalists found themselves in an oil field with a creepy looking house in the background.  It set the scene for the final challenge of the season.  McKenzie had special guest Jason Blum, creator of the production company Blumhouse that brought us all the latest horrors like The Purge and Insidious with her to bring them the challenge details.  They would have to create 2 characters to star in their own film. The film would be an adaptation of a short story taken from The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares: The Haunted City, a collection of short stories by writers, actors and directors like Eli Roth and Scott Derrickson.  The story, entitled “Hellhole” by Chris Denham, tells of a family that buys a house only to find that it’s a portal to Hell and that they have unleashed a demon.  The artists had to create a demon and a possessed family member according to a script from one of 3 new up-and-coming directors hand-picked for this challenge.  The artists would get a lighting and screen test, 2 helpers in the way of their former contestants, and  Jason Blum would also be a judge for the final looks in the film.  Another surprise was that Oscar-winning makeup artist Lois Burwell, one of the judges from season 7, would be there for the walk-through.

Rob picked Anna and Kaleb.  His script described a demon that came up from the oil fields.  The director, Bryce McGuire, wanted a molten, cracked and crusted skin on the demon.  Rob came up with a sun-baked demon and a possessed woman who would ooze oil.  He wanted to create a larger than life chest piece, face and cowl.  Anna would do the possession makeup and Rob would do the demon face. Lois warned him to avoid a leonine look to the nose and cheeks.  Rob was floundering a bit with the design of the face, but came up with a mole/rhino look that he was happy with.  He also wanted a unique horn shape that would add height.  Kaleb fabricated a back piece that looked like roots, and even though the mold stuck creating a huge split in the demon face, and the heavy cowl was making the demon face push forward, they came up with a great makeup.  During the screen test, Rob soon learned that his vision didn’t match the director’s.  Bryce wanted a paler, more powdery look, the horns placed further back on the head, and shovel-like hands.  He also wanted imbedded natural elements.  The possessed makeup was too extreme for him, and he wanted the possession to not manifest physically.  Um….sure.  Poor Rob had a tall order ahead of him and would have to do a whole new makeup.

Rob and his first demon draft,

Rob and his first demon draft.

 

 

Melissa had Yvonne and Johnny on her team.  Her script involved a cyclops-type demon so she wanted to make sure she didn’t recreate her last makeup and came up with a fleshy eye membrane instead of an actual eye.  She would be doing the face of the demon, Yvonne the demon cowl, and Johnny the possessed family member.  During the walk-through, they thought the possessed makeup was too subtle, and she had to shift his eye shape.  The demon needed a stronger jaw line, and they had to watch their time.  She let Johnny do the molds since that was his strength, and she created a diseased look emanating from the heart area for the possessed character.  She was stressed because they were running out of time. At the screen test, director John Wynn didn’t like the demon chest piece because it might look like he was lactating once the oil started to ooze.  He wanted oil oozing from the demon’s mouth and more redness in the eye area.  The possessed makeup needed more makeup on the shoulder and branches growing from his fingertips.  Melissa intended to step it up for a win.

Melissa and her demonic duo.

Melissa and her demonic duo.

 

 

Walter, Mel and Robert would avoid the typical demon look and create a simple possessed makeup.  Lois and Mr. Westmore suggested sculpting skin around the vines that would protrude from the possessed character’s face.  They loved the demon, but Lois advised him to pay attention to where the lighting would hit the makeup.  Walter went for an asymmetrical feel with vines on one side and a pumpkin like look on the other shoulder.  He created a set of teeth for his model and Robert used moss to cover edges and gave a great look to the demon.  Mel worked on the possessed makeup and although the edges were lifting on the face piece, they got the makeups to the soundstage.  Ryan Spindell seemed happy with the look but wanted the vines finished and Mr. Westmore suggested fixing spots on the nose and brow bone that reflected too much light.  Ryan also wanted to see more of the actor in the possessed makeup.  Walter was pleased that he didn’t have to redo the whole makeup.

Walter and his vined demons.

Walter and his vined demons.

 

 

All the artists had a lot of work to do before the final filming, and once again, Face Off left us hanging until the second part of the finale.  This is killing me!!

More Life Needed with The Lazarus Effect

Published March 1, 2015 by rmpixie

lazurus

The Lazarus Effect (2015, 83 mins.)

Life beyond death has fascinated us humans forever, but we also try to prolong life for as long as we can.  The two come together with the latest Blumhouse scarefest, The Lazarus Effect.

Engaged scientists Zoe (Olivia Wilde) and Frank (Mark Duplass), head a research team that has created a technique to bring people back from the brink of death with a serum and serious electrical charges.  It is a revolutionary breakthrough that they have not quite mastered yet, with their lab animal trials succeeding in only a second or two of life.

The experiment finally works with the reanimation of a euthanized dog Rocky, and he is revived to a fully functioning but unsettlingly weird and progressively aggressive pet.  The team is being watched by their university and a large pharmaceutical company, and once they hit pay dirt with Rocky, the entire operation is shut down, and their findings confiscated.

Zoe has saved some of the serum she created, and in order to prove the theory is theirs, they break into the lab before it is completely dismantled to recreated their hard work.  When Zoe hits the power she is electrocuted and dies.  Frank in his desperation, uses the technique on her, bringing her back as a changed and evil woman who will terrorize them in the secluded lab.

It’s a shame the script seemed rushed because this film had potential and was ultimately left unfinished.  There could have been so much more:  more discussion on what lies beyond death; more back story with Zoe and her childhood tragedy; more supernatural creatures; more budget, and more use of the talented supporting cast.  Duplass was decent as Zoe’s scientifically driven fiancé, showing his dramatic acting chops well here (if you haven’t seen his film Safety Not Guaranteed, do it now!).  Donald Glover as Niko and Evan Peters as Clay were smart additions to the cast and their motivations were clear, but Sarah Bolger’s Eva was far too ambiguous and wasn’t given time to grow.  This film does prove that Wilde can do something other than the pretty love interest though.  She sidesteps the predictably likeable Zoe by becoming a successfully menacing threat.  It is a meaty role that would have had better impact if there was, as said previously, more.

Without giving away spoilers, the film leaves plenty of room for a sequel, but I suspect if it gets made, it will probably get the same low-budget treatment and go straight to video, unless the original cast gets a dose of that serum and agrees to come back (sorry, couldn’t resist).

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