Daniel Kaluuya

All posts tagged Daniel Kaluuya

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.

Taking a Look into the Black Mirror

Published January 9, 2015 by rmpixie

BlackMirror

Black Mirror (Seasons 1-3, 2011-2014, originally aired on Channel 4)

A couple of my friends told me about Black Mirror, a British T.V. series that takes the future and makes it shiny, rich with technology and painfully dark.  Of course, they thought it would be right up my alley because I love the Brits and anything weird; and although it started in 2011, us North Americans (or maybe just little ol’ me) are just catching wind of it now on Netflix.  After binge watching all the episodes and loving each sordid take on pieces of humanity neatly arranged, duplicated or dulled by advanced gadgetry, I have a new appreciation for Luddites and a simpler life.

Three seasons in, series creator and writer Charlie Brooker aimed to unsettle the viewer and leave happy resolutions to his stories in the dust.  Using classic shows like The Twilight Zone and The Night Gallery as inspirations, Brooker wanted to devastate the audience, little by little :

From the writing to casting well-known and diverse British actors in out-of-the-box roles, he did an outstanding job. There were some episodes that were stronger that others, but I want to highlight my favourites.

The Entire History of You, episode 3 of Season 1, was extremely relatable and begs the question of whether ignorance really is bliss.  Rather than rely on a natural memory, most of the population has a “grain” implant, a tiny device that lives under the skin recording every moment of your life.  An insecure lawyer (Toby Kebbell from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) whose career and relationship is up in the air decides that his grain will help reveal the truth.  He soon tortures himself with the destructive use of memory recalled at the flick of a switch. The scenarios played out in his marriage were unsettling and realistic.  I can see most people using their implant to win an argument, or obsess and re-examine every second, except this time with painfully crystal clarity, crushing their hearts in the heaviness of life’s minutiae.  There are reports that Robert Downey Jr. has bought the rights to make this a full-length film.  Although the original writer Jesse Armstrong is behind the film script, I’m not hopeful (ugh!).

 Kebbell as Liam the lawyer looking into his past

Kebbell as Liam the lawyer looking into his past

 

 

Be Right Back, the first episode from Season 2, was full of disturbing melancholy.  Martha (Agent Carter‘s Hayley Atwell) is grieving the loss of her husband Ash (Domhnall Gleeson), who was always on social media.  She is encouraged by a friend to use his social media footprint in order to keep her husband’s memory alive.  The widow goes from flat-out refusal to rising degrees of desperation in order to have him back.  It is a cautionary tale that covers two issues:  the first is the way we might grieve in the future and the lengths we may go to keep our loved ones as more than just a faded memory; the second puts our online presence in the spotlight and makes you wonder how much of yourself should put out into cyberspace and how much of it might take on a life of its own.

Hayley Atwell as Martha in Be Right Back

Hayley Atwell as Martha in Be Right Back

 

 

The second episode from the same season jangled the nerves.  White Bear opens with a woman (Being Human‘s Lenora Crichlow) who awakens to an empty house and a strange symbol on all the television sets.  When she emerges outside, there are shadowy figures in windows filming her with their smartphones, and eventually chase her through the neighbourhood, not uttering a word in reply to her pleas for help.  She has no memory of who she is or where she comes from, and once a balaclava-clad gunman drives up with her in his crosshairs, she is in for the fight of her life.  This was a brilliant take on the spectator culture we are so overrun with these days.  The community here swirls with apathy, perverse enjoyment and judgement.  I really liked the twisted ending, and it puts a microscopic lens on a specific aspect of social media culture that I personally loathe.

On the run in White Bear

On the run in White Bear

 

 

Season 3’s only episode, White Christmas, brings us a winding tale of that pesky spectator issue, murder and heartbreak that was really inventive.  Matt (Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm) is a chatty house mate to Joe (Rafe Spall), a sullen man of few words.  They are together for Christmas dinner, and at Matt’s cajoling, they each tell their stories of why they are in a cabin on a wintry Christmas day.  It was great to see Hamm shed his Don Draper shadow to branch out into sci-fi again.  This episode really made me think of the Outer Limits or Twilight Zone, but with a bleaker outlook for a morally numb 21st century.

Hamm baring his soul in White Christmas

Hamm baring his soul in White Christmas

 

 

Other episodes of note were The National Anthem from Season 1.  A satirical story of a British Prime Minister (played brilliantly by Penny Dreadful‘s Rory Kinnear) that has to copulate with a pig in order to save a princess was so realistically disturbing it made me feel ill instead of wanting to laugh, although it did shed light on the absurdity of political backroom negotiations and viral public opinion.  I preferred this episode to The Waldo Moment from Season 2 that broached a similar subject, this one highlighting the popularity of a cartoon bear running for office because of social media.

Disbelief to save a life in The National Anthem

Disbelief to save a life in The National Anthem

 

Another Season 1 episode, Fifteen Million Merits starring Daniel Kaluuya, made my list as well.  I first saw this young actor in the now defunct British series The Fades, as the hysterically funny best friend Mac, and he has since showcased his talent in films like Kick-Ass 2. This time, we are taken to a world where daily cycling creates power and earns riders merits which they can spend on various pastimes, like video games or porn.  You can also use them to enter a reality talent competition, which Bing (Kaluuya) does, but not for himself.  He decides to help Abi (Jessica Brown-Findlay), a girl he has a crush on, but things take a turn for the worse.  I enjoyed Kaluuya’s performance as the endearing Bing and this take on fame, the working class, image and literally selling out in the future.

Kaluuya and Brown-Findlay in Fifteen Million Merits

Kaluuya and Brown-Findlay in Fifteen Million Merits

I really loved the innovations that were presented in all the episodes, and kudos to the designers who created advanced but believable technology that seems to be right around the corner for us all.  Each story blended the human element and the artificial with a brilliant ease that made each scenario all the more worrying.  How much do we rely on technology?  How often do we expect a smart phone, tablet, or laptop to connect us to a virtual world that seems easier to navigate?  Is it easier, or does it just stress the animals in their caged realities?  Brookner and the Black Mirror team did a great job bringing up these questions with tales of insidious science, so-called advancement and fear…welcome to a frighteningly real future…

 

 

 

 

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