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Non-Review Review: Antebellum

Antebellum never seems entirely sure whether it wants to be a biting social commentary or a pulpy genre exercise.

To be clear, this is a false dichotomy. One of the most interesting aspects of horror is how frequently it can satisfy both of those objectives. Get Out is perhaps the most obvious recent example of this, and it is telling that (like so many modern horrors) Antebellum markets itself as “from the producers of Get Out.” However, this has always been a feature of horror, as demonstrated by the films of directors like Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Antebellum shouldn’t have to choose between being socially relevant and being an effective horror, but it insists on doing so.

Shining some light on the matter.

There is a good movie buried somewhere in Antebellum. It is very clear that writers and directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz have a good idea that resonates in the current moment. Indeed, Antebellum hammers that point pretty heavily. It opens with a quote from William Faulkner, reminding audiences that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In case the audience doesn’t get how that applies to the movie’s set-up, a character repeats it about forty minutes into the runtime. Antebellum has things to say, and is not shy about saying them.

However, what Antebellum is trying to say is muddled by a number of awkward structural choices. Antebellum is a film that is consciously built around a number of developments that are intended to wrong-foot the audience and catch them off-guard, to invite the viewer to ask questions about what is happening and why, and maybe even add some compelling gif-able content for the film’s marketing. This structuring of Antebellum is wrong-headed on a number of levels, but most profoundly in the way that it reduces the movie’s biting thesis to a cheap narrative hook.

Burning unease.

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Non-Review Review: Us

Us is fascinating, if undercut by comparisons to Get Out.

Get Out was a phenomenal feature debut from writer and director Jordan Peele, an unexpected left-turn from a comedian who was (at that time) best know for his work on one of the decade’s best sketch comedy shows, Key & Peele. It was an unexpectedly sharp piece of social satire, an incredibly pointed commentary on race and identity in contemporary America, one held together by an incredibly strong central metaphor. Get Out was driven by an almost single-minded commitment to its core ideas, which were skillfully wed to a genre vehicle. It was always clear exactly what Get Out was saying, and why it was saying that in the way that it was.

Taking a second swing.

Us is a fundamentally messier film, at once more conventional in terms of its structure and rhythms while being more abstract and confused in its central metaphors. One of the central throughlines of Us is the concept of “the untethering”, and it often feels like a metaphor for the film’s own internal creative process. Us is a lot less focused than Get Out, a lot less together. It often seems like the film is caught in a tug-of-war between its two core elements: on one hand, the desire to present an old-fashioned home-invasion-turned-national-crisis narrative in the style of everything from The Strangers to Dawn of the Dead; on the other, a central metaphor touching on everything from Jungian anxiety to class warfare to the modern division of the United States.

So, to answer the important questions about Us: no, the film is not as good as Get Out; and yes, the film is really good.

Face yourself.

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Dublin Film Critics Circle Awards, 2017

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Snow! Christmas! Terrible but enjoyable music! End of year “best of” lists!

I’m a member of a couple of critics’ organisations, so we’ll be releasing a couple of these lists upon which I voted. I’ll also hopefully be releasing my own top ten as part of a Scannain end-of-year podcast some time next week.

In the meantime, the Dublin Film Critics Circle have released their end of year awards. Thrilled to be a part of the group, who are voting on films released in Ireland during the calendar year of 2017. As such, it will be a different pool of films than the Online Film Critics Society awards.

A massive thanks to the wonderful Tara Brady for organising the awards this year, balloting members and collating results.

Anyway, without further ado…

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24. Get Out – This Just In (#227)

With host Andrew Quinn taking the week off, Darren Mooney is joined by special guest Grace Duffy for This Just In, a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

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Non-Review Review: Get Out

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Get Out is a fantastic horror comedy from Jordan Peele.

The premise of Get Out is relatively straightforward, with Rose taking her African American boyfriend Chris home to meet her wealthy white parents. What follows is essentially a twenty-first century horror movie twist on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, in which Chris finds himself growing increasingly uncomfortable in the presence of Rose’s very liberal parents. There is an awkward unease to his visit with the family, beneath all the welcoming smiles and the mannered politeness.

Terrorvision.

Terrorvision.

Get Out is a brilliantly wry and ironic piece of film-making, building a very traditional horror movie around a very intangible discomfort. After all, racism is not always something that can be cleanly defined and measured, often reflected in implications and patterns more than individual statements and actions. Get Out masterfully plays on this tension of something so horrifying being rendered so ethereal, most notably through its repeated (effective) use of scare chords and horror angles making normal social interactions especially uncomfortable.

Get Out is a promising directorial debut from veteran comedian Jordan Peele, one that skilfully uses the flexibility and surrealism of conventional horror beats to build a well-observed and uncanny piece of social commentary.

Couldn't be Keener.

Couldn’t be Keener.

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