Get Out (15) ****
Personal Shopper (15) ****
The Salesman (12A) ***
Beauty and the Beast (PG) **
Made when Obama was still in office but coming out with Trump in the White House, Jordan Peele’s post-racial horror satire Get Out couldn’t be timelier – or smarter about its targets. Fusing the general premise of Look Who’s Coming To Dinner with the deconstructionist tendencies of Cabin in the Woods, the film stars Daniel Kaluuya as a twenty-something photographer making the trip to the suburbs with his (relatively) new girlfriend to visit her liberal-to-a-fault parents. Before they leave, Chris (Kaluuya) asks the awkward question: “Do they know I’m black?” The answer is no, but Rose (Allison Williams) reassures Chris by telling him her dad would have voted for Obama for a third term if he could, a statement her neurosurgeon father (brilliantly played by Bradley Whitford) promptly repeats upon their arrival as he attempts to ingratiate himself with his daughter’s new beau while simultaneously reaffirming his own broadminded bona fides after Chris clocks their black servants.
We already know things are a little off by this stage. From the opening scene, Peele leaves us in little doubt we’re watching a horror movie, but as Chris spends more time with Rose’s father, her therapist mother (Catherine Keener) and her oddball brother (Caleb Landry Jones), little things they say start messing with his head in small but crucial ways, forcing him to question whether they’re really as genial as they seem or whether there’s something more sinister going on beneath their overt approval of his relationship with Rose. To say anything more risks ruining the fun, but suffice to say that the film twists and turns in intriguing ways that deepen the horror, the comedy and the politics, sometimes all at once, transforming Get Out into a deft exploration of white privilege and the optics of race relations at a time when blatant racism is on the rise again. It’s an auspicious debut to say the least, with Peele making good on his performance background in sketch comedy to make his points land with a sly wit that makes the horror all the more powerful.
There’s more leftfield horror in the latest collaboration between Kristen Stewart and French filmmaker Olivier Assayas. Personal Shopper plays like a ghost story companion piece to The Clouds of Sils Maria, with Stewart once again playing a personal assistant to a rich, bubble-dwelling celebrity. This time out, however, her character, Maureen, is also a medium plagued by a spectral connection to her recently deceased twin brother. All of which sounds a little hokey, but Assayas uses horror tropes to comment on the otherwordly nature of celebrity, which gives the film a playful edge and allows Stewart to exorcise the ghost of Twilight once and for all.
Winner of this year’s Academy Award for best foreign language film, The Salesman finds A Separation director Asghar Farhadi riffing on Death of a Salesman in this slightly mannered tale of a teacher whose comfortable middle class life is upended after his wife is violently attacked. A richly symbolic opening prefigures the impending catastrophe: in the middle of the night Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rena (Taraneh Alidoosti) are forced to evacuate their apartment when shoddy foundations threaten the building’s collapse. When an actor in their theatre company offers them a place to stay, they happily accept, unaware that the previous occupant may have been a prostitute whose clientele have not yet been apprised of her hasty departure. That’s bad news for Rena, who one night unthinkingly buzzes in a stranger assuming it’s her husband. By the time Emad arrives home, the neighbours are attending to Rena after finding her unconscious and bleeding on the bathroom floor. What follows is a low-key thriller of sorts, in which Emad’s obsession with finding the culprit allows Farhadi to explore how shaky his protagonist’s moral foundations are. Offsetting their ordeal against an amateur production of Death of a Salesman in which Emad and Rena are starring as Willy and Susan Loman, Farhadi uses the interweaving plots to expose the fissures in their marriage, with Emad’s moral superiority as a professional man living in theocratic Tehran becoming his tragic flaw. Though some of the plotting feels a little contrived, there’s a formal elegance to the way Farhadi presents all this ensuring it’s never less than absorbing.
Beauty and the Beast is Disney’s latest raid on its classic animation vaults, but unlike last year’s update of The Jungle Book, there’s no technological justification for doing a live action transition. That said, as the Beast, Dan Stevens does manage to transcend the strictures of motion capture to give a moving performance as the cursed prince whose arrogance has condemned him and his loyal subjects to a terrible fate. Unfortunately, as the imprisoned Belle, Emma Watson is a prisoner of her own limited range, unable to transform her book-smart character into the sort of formidable romantic partner that could help the film overcome some of its more inherently dodgy sexual politics. It’s left to a game Luke Evans as the vainglorious Gaston, and seasoned Broadway performer Josh Gad as his flamboyant sidekick LeFou, to imbue the songs with the requisite show-tune razzle-dazzle – although the hype and furore surrounding LeFou’s supposed status as Disney’s first fully realised gay character seems like a storm in a (talking) teacup: unless a coded second-long glance between two men somehow counts as progressive filmmaking, there’s barely any acknowledgment of his sexuality in the film at all.