As Oscar time approaches, entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out two of the best picture nominees, horror flick Get Out and drama Three Billboards Outside Epping, Missouri.
Directed by Jordan Peele (2017)
Contrary to some media commentary, Get Out isn’t the first horror movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Even if you consider Black Swan (2010) and The Sixth Sense (1999) to be thrillers rather than horror movies, it’s hard to deny The Exorcist (1973) and Silence of the Lambs (1990) fall into the often-maligned horror genre.
This preamble is not meant to take away from Get Out, but rather put it in perspective of the handful of horror movies ever nominated for the most prestigious award in film. And the company is well earned, as Get Out is immaculately well made.
Directed by comedian Jordan Peele in his first big screen outing, Get Out tells the story of Chris Washington, a young black photographer invited to stay with his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend. I mention their skin colour only because race relations are at the heart of Get Out — this is a movie about what it’s like to be an African American in Trump’s USA.
Don’t let the political overtones put you off, as Get Out is one of the most suspenseful movies I’ve seen in years. Much of this credit goes to star Daniel Kaluuya, who previously starred in Sicario and Kick Ass 2 and can also be seen in the recently opened Black Panther. Kaluuya is an outstanding actor, able to convey a startling range of emotions without saying a word.
Accompanying Daniel are accomplished actors including Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, along side rising stars Caleb Landry Jones (also in Three Billboards), Allison Williams (Girls) and Lil Rel Howery as earnest TSA agent Rod Williams. Howery is responsible for the film’s rare comedic moments, a brief respite from the growing horror of Chris’s plight.
Novice director Peele makes some bold choices as the tension slowly builds, ably assisted by Australian cinematographer Toby Oliver (Beneath Hill 60, Happy Death Day). While light on violence and gore, Get Out is no doubt a horror film and will genuinely have you on the edge of your seat.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Directed by Martin McDonaugh (2017)
Aside from bearing a striking resemblance to Sting, British director Martin McDonaugh has made some pretty damn good films.
His first feature-length effort was In Bruges, a tale of a pair of hitmen hiding out in Belgium. Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, the film balanced humour with emotion and made a lot of critics top ten lists in 2008. Follow up Seven Psychopaths (2012), an ensemble crime comedy about a screenwriter (Colin Farrell again) who gets caught up with a bunch of criminals, was less successful commercially but still demonstrated a rare talent.
It took McDonaugh another five years to make Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but the result is more than worth the wait. Three Billboards tells the story of grieving mother Mildred (Frances McDormand) who uses the titular billboards to call out Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on his failure to catch her daughter’s murderer. The tension is exacerbated by racist deputy Dixon, played to dimwitted perfection by Sam Rockwell, and stoked by ad-man Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) leading to an inevitable tragedy.
With a total of seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress (Frances McDormand), Best Original Screenplay and a pair of Best Supporting Actor nods (Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson), Three Billboards is both darkly hilarious and deeply upsetting. A quiet film about broken people, this doesn’t rely on grand spectacle (Dunkirk) or compelling historic narrative (The Post, Darkest Hour) to impress. Instead the film treads a delicate path, examining themes from revenge to toxic masculinity and gives every main character a meaningful story arc.
Three Billboards is, without a doubt, Frances McDormand’s film. She is absolutely compelling as the driven Mildred, resolute even as her obsession destroys her relationship with her son and makes her a target of public scorn. Taking this into account, the Best Supporting actor nominations for both Harrelson and Rockwell are well deserved, with the former giving what is perhaps a career best performance as the well-meaning Sheriff. Woody the bartender from Cheers has come a long way, displaying a nuance that almost makes you forget his wanton scenery-chewing in the latest Planet of the Apes flick….
While very different in theme, tone and the way they make you feel, both Get Out and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri are superb movies. The creeping dread of Get Out may not appeal to everyone, while the racial themes may upset those who like to wear a flag as a cape, but if you’re a fan of psychological horror movies then you need to check out this movie.
Three Billboards is, without qualification, a must see. It doesn’t necessarily need to be on the big screen, but this is one of the best movies about grief and conviction that I’ve ever seen.
Get Out — 9/10
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — 10/10
First published in Independent Australia on 17 February 2018. https://independentaustralia.net/art/art-display/screen-themes-get-out-vs-three-billboards-outside-epping-missouri,11212