If ever a horror film seemed intimately tapped into the current social climate, Get Out is that film.
Where last week’s A Cure for Wellness found affluent white people retreating from the problems of the world, first-time director Jordan Peele addresses those problems head on. It’s a film of simple construction, but Peele executes it remarkably well. Get Out is a horror film where the frights come less from slasher tropes and gory kills (though we do get plenty of that), but rather in the knowledge that Peele’s story is only slightly hyperbolic.
As photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) prepares for a weekend getaway with girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), he’s hesitant, asking if her parents know that he’s black. Rose assures him that they’re cool, and when we meet her family—parents Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford), and brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones)—on their estate out in the country, everything seems fine. But as the casual racism and backhanded compliments (Jeremy insists Chris has the perfect physique to be a champion MMA fighter) begin to pile up, so too does the vibe that something is very wrong here. Missy uses her skills as a therapist to hypnotize Chris against his will, and soon all of the family’s rich white friends arrive for a party where Chris’ true reason for being there is soon revealed.
Jordan Peele uses his comedic pedigree, from his early days on MadTV to his own sketch show Key & Peele, to drop us into a situation that we want to laugh off. Rose’s family can’t really be this condescendingly, stereotypically white, can they? It has to be some kind of ruse. The characters are a little too broad, and the situation is every boyfriend’s worst nightmare brought to life. The potential for cringe comedy is there, but Peele zigs where we expect him to zag. We suspect the Armitages right away because they’re the unknown Other in this horror movie. Chris, however, is all too aware that he is the Other, a black man interloping onto this upper-class white family’s turf. Peele’s camera stays locked on Chris’ face, his eyes darting every which way, realizing that this whole situation can turn sour on him at a moment’s notice.
Get Out gets enormous mileage out of this paranoid dynamic. Every other black person Chris meets, from groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) to maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel), seems… different. From their outfits to their speech patterns to their bizarre habits in the middle of the night, everything about their being here seems wrong. Dean calls this out right up front, admitting how bad it must look for a white family to hire black housekeepers. This, of course, happens long before Chris starts to suspect something is up, and begins texting photos back to this buddy Rod (a hilarious LilRey Howery), an airport TSA worker who treats his job like he’s a bona fide FBI agent.
Peele directs this film with a confident eye, able to generate tension through clever compositions as much as through narrative alone. He’s stated that Get Out is equal parts The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby, even brutally recreating iconic shots from the latter. His influences run the gamut from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner to The Cabin in the Woods, which also happens to feature Bradley Whitford as a twisted figure of authority. And like Cabin in the Woods, Get Out takes immense joy in subverting accepted horror movie cliches and spinning them in unexpected directions.
With its final act, and the big reveal at its center, Get Out attempts to define the current state of racism in America. White people might like to think that this country’s race problem is over fifty years after the Civil Rights movement, but the reality is that there is still a huge disconnect. The horror of Get Out is situated not in the acknowledgement that white people think “racism is over” but that whites might then use that position as a means of instigating further acts of injustice. The bombshell reveal has fascinating implications, both as a horror premise and as a suggestion of how Jordan Peele sees the current situation. It’s an excellent reveal, and one that he wisely does not overplay. (What you’re hearing right now is the sound of me tapdancing around both racial landmines and spoilers.)
If you come away from Get Out feeling like the film never finishes its thoughts on race relations, that’s because it largely doesn’t have to. For many black Americans, the emotional and physical wringer that Chris goes through still exists outside that theater door. It’s a problem to which we’ve yet to find an answer, and in that regard, this film is guaranteed to stick with you long after the credits have rolled.Liked This? Share It!