Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) closely follows in the footsteps of the social justice framework set by Bryan Forbes’ Stepford Wives (1975). However, as opposed to sexism, Peele confronts contemporary systemic racism in a similar head-on fashion. Being one of the most “black and white” color films of its time, the viewer is exposed to hyperbolic visual motifs tacit to the segregation within our society. Within the first scene, we watch an unsuspecting African-American man out for a midnight stroll down a suburban sidewalk. Suddenly, a lurking white car pulls up behind the man akin to Michael trailing behind Sally in Halloween (1978). Through this scene, Peele immediately conveys his directional intent for the film, and it only builds from there.
From beginning to end, John Carpenter’s primitive Halloween (1978) introduced a vast amount of novel horror elements to the big screen. Not only did Carpenter’s monumental film ignite a later repetitive series of remakes, but it established the groundwork for the subgenre we know as the slasher film. The resultant sub-genre is corroborated through subsequent films of comparable structure and cinematographic elements such as Friday the 13th (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Being revered for its stalking characteristics, the pith of Halloween’s progressive escalation revolves around Michael Myers (Tony Moran) slow, sociopathic approach to his prospective victims. Carpenter underscores Myers’ approach through multiple point-of-view shots, leitmotifs and long shots of Michael silently watching the protagonist, Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), from afar. Through these rudimentary but meticulous film implements, Carpenter delivers a grasping, trendsetting film operating on a highly restricted budget of just $325,000.
One outstanding convention of Halloween is the film’s ability to cross boundaries as displayed in the first scene where the viewer is placed into the perspective of the killer, young Michael, using Carpenter’s famous I-camera. As we enter the first scene, the viewer is subjected to a long take through a point-of-view shot using a handheld camera. Consequently, we are immersed in young Michael’s perspective as he slowly creeps around the outside and inside of his home where he witnesses sexual relations between his sister and her presumed boyfriend. Carpenter personalizes the historic cinematography of the scene even further as Michael puts on a mask altering our perspective to the mask’s two eyeholes in opposition to the full field of view. The gradual transition proves to be a guileful method ultimately straying from traditional horror by aligning the viewer with our soon revealed killer. By the end of the scene, Carpenter has both introduced an unorthodox element of horror while displaying an example of intertextuality by echoing Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) through the scene’s implicit knife killing.
It’s no secret that I adore Jordan Peele’s debut horror feature, Get Out. Needless to say, it’s a film I immediately fell in love with due to its intricate details, stellar performances, and perfectly paced narrative. It went on to be my favorite film of 2017, and I would definitively declare it as being one of the decade’s absolute best films. Having watched it yet again just last month, I’m astounded at the fact that Get Out remains as impressive as ever, and I have been counting down the days until we would get to see what Peele had in store for us with his next film.
Finally, that wait is over. After two long years, Peele is again gracing cinema marquees with his highly anticipated follow-up, Us. I’m going to be up front here: Us is nowhere near as good as its predecessor. However, despite some glaring misgivings I have toward this sophomoric effort, Us is definitely worth seeing. It is, in the end, an extremely well-made and oftentimes very enjoyable horror flick. However, Us is also nowhere close to being as essential as Get Out was. But it should come as no surprise that Peele’s newest work again highlights remarkable acting and gorgeous cinematography, and is based upon yet another inventive, terrifying scenario that’s sure to not only get your blood pumping, but also stimulate your mind in the process.
At the center of Us is a family of four, the Wilsons, which includes mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), father Gabe (Winston Duke), teenage daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and young son Jason (Evan Alex). We join them as they’re pulling up to their comfortable beach house for a summer getaway in Adelaide’s childhood home in Santa Cruz, and we’re allowed some valuable time upfront in order to better align ourselves with these characters and appreciate their relationships with one another. These early moments are breezy, funny, and memorable, as Peele makes it easy to become attached to his likable cast of characters.
Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992) employs parodic conventions in a multitude of forms. From the substantial amounts of exaggerated blood and gore-ridden scenes to the sportive jokes made by the characters, Braindead successfully intertwines comedic conventions in what is portrayed as a zombie-based horror film. Throughout the film, the splatter is in overdrive as the audience is witness to numerous blood-squirting scenes. However, the sound effects that are used mirror a show analogous to The Three Stooges (1925). We see this employed during the appalling lunch scene as Vera’s wounds send projectile globs of blood and flesh into Mr. Matheson’s custard. Of course, as if to taunt the audience, Mr. Matheson unknowingly shoves his face with the gore-infused pudding. It feels as if Jackson intentionally implements this disturbing scene as a horrific presage for what is to come. Following in the footsteps of Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985), Braindead holds nothing back while seizing the audience’s attention with outrageous splatter effects and slapstick horror techniques while subtly introducing novel elements of romance, semi-sentient zombies and unique comedic constituents.
Released in 2011, Lars Von Trier’s film, Melancholia, follows sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsburg) as they grapple with earth’s imminent doom. What commences as a film about a newly married couple—on the surface—gradually spirals into an amalgamation of familial dysfunction, complicated work dynamics, and mental chaos. Meanwhile, amidst the stars orbits a planet named Melancholia that threatens to end life on earth. A visually arresting cinematic experience, Melancholia is a captivating masterpiece in motion. Via scenes whose cinematography and mise-en-scene capture allusions to biblical anecdotes and artistic works, and slow-motion editing that suspends characters in time, Melancholia is an allegory that reflects the lurking inevitably of death and emotional distress.
If I were to read or hear “Lanval” at the time Marie de France wrote it—the twelfth century—I might be a lady at the Anglo-Norman court, possibly at the court of Henry II. I would have “listened … gladly and joyfully” to such narratives and would have referred to them as “lays.” These narratives, telling of “love and adventure”—later known as romances— would have excited my curiosity and a sense of wonder, as they told stories of kings, queens, and knights, and often included elements of the supernatural. Romances are “stories of separation and return, disintegration and reintegration” (Greenblatt 158). If I were a listener of this particular lay, I would have followed the struggle of Lanval, one of the knights of the Round Table, to the deeply comforting, happy ending, but I would also have been left with many questions to ponder long after the echo of the last words that have died in the chamber. Perhaps I would notice that the structure of the story varies from other romances that I have heard—the elements of separation and loss appearing immediately in the beginning. To use Greenblatt’s language, the “protected, civilized state of some integrated social unit” is missing at the start of the story while the elements of “disintegration” abound (158). “Lanval” is a narrative that makes the reader focus on disintegration and does not offer much in terms of solution; rather, it offers a looking glass in which the courtly audience can see and examine themselves.
Disintegration or disruption is present from the first lines of the narrative, which takes place in king Arthur’s England, torn by violence, where “Scottish and Pictish peoples [lay] / waste all that land, in war and raid” (de France 7-8). Marie de France builds the story of Lanval with complexity, depth, and creativity. Where a typical romance would move the audience from a harmonious beginning, through loss or separation, to a satisfying reintegration, Marie de France employs creative variation to this structure. From the country at war, she narrows down to the “unit” of Arthurian court, where she zooms in on many points of disintegration. She undermines the legendary notion of the unquestionable nobility of the Knights of the Round Table—all equal and unified around their king; instead, Arthur is portrayed not as a superhero and the best of kings, but a prone to error human who “forgets” to reward one of his most valiant warriors (19). Arthur and his knights, guided by petty jealousy, “[make] a show of loving” Lanval, says the story, and there, I believe, begins Marie’s commentary on love in its various forms.
One author whose work I’ve had on my to-be-read list is Walter Mosley. Most famous for his novel Devil in a Blue Dress, many of Mosley’s books focus on the tales of the hard-boiled private investigator and Los Angeles resident, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins. Easy, as an investigator, always drew my interest. His character is methodically, sometimes morally, opposite from detectives like Hercule Piorot or Sherlock Holmes, since he’s more willing to blur the lines between right and wrong in the name of justice and truth. After reading and analyzing the 1930s Harlem novel The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolf Fisher, one of the first mystery novels written by an African American, I wanted to dip my toes into the 1960s experiences of Easy Rawlins. I figured the best way to skim the surface would be with one of Mosley’s more recent releases, a short story collection entitled Six Easy Pieces.