Welcome to a new series where, every week, PopHorror picks a horror movie and tries to find a risky or unexpected double feature. We write up our reasons then take to social media to find out if our pick is a great night at the theater or a disappointing double bill! Will It Work? See our previous picks here: Pitch Black and Bone Tomahawk, Midsommar and Two Thousand Maniacs!, Halloween and No Country For Old Men
When you’ve watched as many horror films as the average gorehound or scare-seeker, the word “scary” becomes less concrete. You’ll find that movies don’t scare you as much as they once did, and you stop chasing that particularly dragon in favor of more esoteric, less accessible feelings like unease, disgust, and anxiety. You begin to seek out the movies that locate a fear you’ve had your whole life and surgically prod it with as many cinematic needles as possible.
Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017 – read our review here) is one such film, targeting explicit racial tensions to create an atmosphere of anxiety, paranoia, and omnipresent, uncanny fear. The score, cinematography, and ever-present smiles of the mostly-white antagonists of the film force Chris, played by the immediately likable and approachable Daniel Kaluuya, into a hellscape of racist microaggressions, and, eventually, a fight for his very survival.
The triumph of the film is the way it drops its audience, regardless of race, into an environment in which everyone’s intentions cannot be known and might be malicious. Is a compliment sincere? Or is it one more clicking gear in the stainless steel clockwork trap they’ve built for you? Jordan Peele builds a cathedral of doubt and suspicion before burning it down in an explosive third act. This kind of achievement is one of a kind.
The trouble, then, is finding an acceptable companion to this film. Most other movies feel insufficient when set against the standard of Get Out. The only hope, then, is to find a film that attempts the same atmosphere of uncanny fear and doubt but comically fails at the first hurdle. A double feature with a film of this quality can only be an exercise in contrast. You’ve watched Get Out, now let’s highlight the film’s achievements with a sleazy, compelling, baffling follow-up.
Let’s watch Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate (1997).
Southern-accented podunk lawyer Kevin Lomax, played by once-joke-now-legend Keanu Reeves, and his also-Southern-accented wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron: Monster 2003), travel to New York City to work for high-powered legal executive John Milton, played by a post-Scent of a Woman and truly unhinged Al Pacino, and his crack team of morally flexible lawyers. In his new job and apartment, Lomax is led briefcase-first into a dark world of sex, excess, evil, and conspiracy, until he realizes that his new occupation isn’t what it seems.
Except it is, and Lomax is staggeringly dumb. Rather than spend a movie in deep suspicion and expertly crafted suspense, Hackford invites us into a world in which we know everything from the minute Pacino “Hoo-ah”s onto the screen. He’s the Devil. Which makes Keanu the titular The Devil’s Advocate. Get it? Despite the obviousness of the film, it’s a richly compelling exercise in late-night cable legal sleaze that all plays like an unrated episode of Law & Order. Some highlights include Delroy Lindo as a voodoo practitioner on trial for sacrificing a goat in his basement, Craig T. Nelson as the most obvious Donald Trump allegory in cinema history, and Chris Bauer pretending to be a pedophile school teacher.
The film plays well with Get Out in its treatment of paranoia. Once they arrive in New York City, Lomax and Mary Ann begin to lose their grip on what’s real and what’s not, just like Chris does. They begin to question just what, exactly, they’re trading away for their new palatial apartment and piles of money. These suspicions are confirmed by haunting, demonic visions and the hedonistic temptations from their new social circle. Pacino’s Milton boisterously monologues and charms his way gleefully through their defense cases until both characters are helpless to his designs. Those designs, by the way, can only be described (to the chagrin of this reviewer) as bat shit crazy.
Where Get Out has the subtlety and cleverness of a scalpel, The Devil’s Advocate roars and sputters like a chainsaw. To watch both is to see what a perfectly constructed suspense plot looks like, and then what a suspense plot might look like in the hands of cocaine-addled, fourteen-year-old Republican.
A double feature of both films is a popcorn-buttered journey through the peaks and valleys of suspense and who-to-trust horror.
So, what do you think… double feature of Get Out and Devil’s Advocate… will it work?