Get Out; The Lost City of Z; Kong: Skull Island and more – review

Racial hatred adopts a happy face in Jordan Peele’s exhilarating horror, while an explorer’s search for a buried city is a glorious ode to failure

Some films are made in direct response to the politics of their era; others are indelibly claimed by the times in which they find themselves. A sly, savvy horror film that doubles as a particularly grisly comedy of manners, Jordan Peele’s Get Out (Universal, 15) is a bit of both. The fear and restless resistance driving the Black Lives Matter movement clearly informs Peele’s wicked what-if scenario, in which smiling white liberalism proves a ghastly contemporary cover for Confederate-era race hate, with the wonderful Daniel Kaluuya as its bewildered but redoubtable target.

The unhappy accident is that the film was released into Trump’s America of “alt-right” empowerment, an environment in which this satirical vision of ethnic cleansing no longer looks entirely surreal. The uncannily recognisable absurdity of Get Out is what gives the film its live, spitting electrical current. I could point out a plotting wobble here or there, but it’s petrifying and exhilarating on terms that transcend mere genre design. It’s a horror film in which the enemy lies beyond the confines of the screen.

Watch the trailer for The Lost City of Z.

Not a hair, leaf or minute formal detail is out of place, meanwhile, in James Gray’s ravishing The Lost City of Z (Studiocanal, 15), which derives a burning emotional power from that very perfectionism. Like so many of the greatest films about obsessive ambition, it is itself a little obsessive. At one level, it’s an epic quest narrative in a thunderingly classical tradition, chronicling the attempts of real-life explorer Percy Fawcett (a golly-gosh dashing Charlie Hunnam, gradually channelling Ryan O’Neal in Barry Lyndon) to uncover the eponymous buried wonder in the Amazon. Yet as our hero’s journey runs into a series of non-Hollywood dead ends, Gray’s film turns its muscular romantic sweep to subtler, more intimately psychological ends. It should go down as one of cinema’s most glorious odes to failure, a monument with a proud but broken heart beating beneath its exquisite verdigris surface.

Watch the trailer for Kong: Skull Island.

Head to Kong: Skull Island (Warner, 12), however, if you want mighty scale without soul to match, which I don’t mean entirely as a negative when it comes to this brash, brawny and exuberantly overheated mashup of monster-movie tropes. Pretty much every interpretation of the gargantuan gorilla adventure is pilfered, scraps of everything from Apocalypse Now to Predator added, scrunched into something that averages out at sweaty 1980s exploitation cinema. The setting is the sunset of the Vietnam war – why not? – and a US task force is bound for a shadowy land mass called Skull Island, because, hey, that sounds auspicious, right? Raucous monkey business ensues, directed with noisy flair; only Tom Hiddleston, looking decidedly out of sorts, sticks in the mud.

Tye Sheridan in Detour: ‘a nifty, nasty little time-bending thriller’
Tye Sheridan in Detour: ‘a nifty, nasty little time-bending thriller’. Photograph: PR Company Handout

Also on the tastier end of the junk food menu is Detour (Bulldog Films, 15), a nifty, nasty little time-bending thriller from British B-movie specialist Christopher Smith that at last gives the Gwyneth Paltrow romcom Sliding Doors the grimy neo-noir makeover it’s been crying out for. There’s pure unrefined sugar on offer, meanwhile, in Red Dog: The Early Years (Signature, 12), a ruthlessly sentimental but beguiling prequel to the hit Australian family film; its warm, russety outback spin on the boy-and-his-dog formula got me right between the (rather moist) eyes.

On the art house front, I was more nutritiously moved by Aki Kaurismäki’s typically wry, shambling immigrant fable The Other Side of Hope (Curzon Artificial Eye, 12). Tracing the unlikely alliance between a careworn Syrian refugee and a crumpled Finnish restaurateur. It covers similarly gentle, empathetic tonal ground to 2011’s Le Havre, with slightly tarter, less precious results.

You have to work a little harder to excavate the emotional rewards of Scarred Hearts, a recent festival item now premiering exclusively on A still, mournfully wry Max Blecher adaptation from Romanian auteur Radu Jude, it takes a young writer’s confinement to a Black Sea sanatorium in the 1930s as the wick for a slow-burning study of the human condition: physical, medical, spiritual and otherwise. At 140 minutes, its poetry demands, but rewards, patience.


Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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