The brief break from classes and deadlines is the perfect chance to take a trip to the cinema and catch up on the films you didn’t have a chance to see during term. Logan, the final Hugh Jackman led Wolverine film; Kong: Skull Island, the latest offering about the giant monkey; and Viceroy’s House, a historical drama surrounding British India’s return to independence, are all still in cinemas now. Alternatively, this weekend marked the release of Personal Shopper, an unnerving ghostly mystery about fear, grief, and life after death. But the biggest releases this week are unarguably Get Out and the remade Beauty and the Beast.
Having already received overwhelmingly positive reviews, Jordan Peele’s Get Out is the socially conscious horror film we have all been waiting for (whether we realised it or not). The opening, a lonely figure walking home alone at night, employs all of the traditional horror film tropes. When a car pulls up alongside the figure ominous music is not necessary to convey the impending threat. But when the figure is a black man the scene becomes frightening in an all too relevant and familiar way.
The film continues in this vein, manipulating traditional horror tropes and clichés to give them a racial overtone which only makes them more terrifying. The awkwardness of Chris’s first visit to his girlfriend’s family home is made immediately obvious by his anxiety at their lack of foreknowledge that he is a black man dating their white daughter. Their racial insensitivity and resulting overcompensation (of course they would have voted Obama in for a third term if they could have) are at first treated at comedic plays. But Chris’ discomfort increases at a family gathering where the number of white people increases but he is introduced to only three people of colour, two of whom are staff and all of whom are under some strange compulsion.
The climactic reveal of the family’s intentions for Chris, the same fate which has befallen all of the black people they have lured to their home, is a disturbing new take on black face which modern medical experiments have made possible. The films rooting in psychology and medicine give a believability (within the context of the film) which combined with the very real racism allows the film to truly shock. The film resists its white antagonists attempts to sanitize the brutality which it deals with, despite being very funny in places, but instead exposes it and all of the nuances and subtleties of racism (fetishizing, police prejudice, appropriation and commodification of black culture) which so often go overlooked in mainstream cinema. Daniel Kaluuya as Chris is integral to the film’s success, and it is the depth of his performance which reveals the lasting trauma and heavy weight of racist persecution which extend far beyond the closing credits.
A much lighter film in contrast, this weekend Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast finally hit cinemas in all of its splendidly lavish glory. The live action remake of the tale as old as time was a gorgeous tribute to Disney’s original animated classic with a modern approach to inspire a new generation of feminists. Emma Watson’s Belle is a conscious, thoughtful, and kick-ass heroine with enough grit and determination to rival Hermione’s. Her gradual friendship with the Beast is a mature take on the classic Disney romance, and the only “love at first sight” moment is between Belle and the Beast’s library.
The production is an irresistible explosion of colour and beautifully intricate attention to detail. It is also enormous. It would have to be to make room for not one but two comedy duos – Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth and Ewan Mcgregror’s Lumiere; and Luke Evan’s Gaston and Josh Gad’s LeFou. But the extravagant set, the comedy, and the stunning music never detract from the fairy tale at the centre of the film which has some extra nods to Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s original story, and some additional embellishments and expansions.
Some cinemas have been boycotting the film because of its inclusion of a gay character and an “exclusively gay scene,” but expressions of LeFou’s sexuality are so subtle and brief (blink and you’ll miss them) this bigoted boycott is as unnecessary as it is homophobic. The recurrence of a “not like other girls” line of thought is also disappointing, but is countered by the variety of active female voices and figures within the film, and somewhat explained by a revealing depiction of the towns people’s ferocious reaction to Belle teaching another little girl to read. The addition of a back story for the Beast might be viewed as an attempt to excuse the Beast’s aggressive behaviour, but instead gives the Beast a past to learn from and Belle more realistic motivations for sympathising with him.
The film is undeniably problematic at times, but it is a step forward from the original and it manages to be such without losing the magic and beauty of the fairy tale we grew up with. A film this good, with the added bonus of childhood nostalgia, makes a trip to the cinema almost irresistible.