The film that has everybody talking right now is a unique, socially conscious horror film that unflinchingly tackles suburban racism and uses it as an underlying inspiration for creating fear. Get Out is a smart, progressive thrill ride that never for a moment forgets it’s a horror film, even through its other pursuits, an easy trap when dealing with such a hot button issue, and one that lesser films would surely fall into. Written and directed by Jordan Peele, one half of sketch comedy duo Key & Peele, Get Out exhibits a surprising understanding and deft employment of narrative theory for what is at its heart a true genre film, albeit one that quite overtly stages its horror show in a racist pocket of white America, a very timely milieu when unfortunately such issues are at the forefront of the national conversation these days. That Get Out can stare down the face of these issues, while offering a witty and cleverly structured story, all without skimping on the staples of its genre, delivering a finale that is nothing short of Grand Guignol, makes it not only one of the best horror films of the year, but a hugely important film for our time.
Get Out begins with a familiar situation, and so right away stakes its claim to universality, that of a girl bringing her boyfriend home to meet mom and dad. They are an interracial couple, however, and the twist here is not so much that fact, as it is their conversation, on the eve of journeying from their city dwelling into the remote sticks, which acknowledges that she never told her parents that he is black. Rose Armitage, played by Allison Williams from the HBO show Girls, does not see it as an issue, echoing the sentiments of many who foolishly believe we are living in a post-race society, but for Chris Washington, played by Daniel Kaluuya, it is a very grim reality, and in the interests of things going smoothly over the weekend, he believes her parents should be forewarned On their way Rose hits a deer, and they get exposed to the tacit racism of the local police force, when the officer who arrives on the scene asks to see Chris’ ID even though he wasn’t driving. Happy to oblige, perhaps stemming from a life lived in learning to pick your battles, Chris takes out his identification, but Rose tells him not to, and calls out the officer for his inappropriate and hostile request. Framing this institutional racism through a white perspective is a brilliantly persuasive stroke, and leaves no question as to the officer’s intent, establishing Chris’ fears that will have much more direct and physical manifestations later on.
Once they arrive at mom and dad’s, played by the great Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, Chris is surprisingly welcomed with open arms and made to feel at home. Subtle hints are dropped to their imbedded, subconscious racism, like the father’s continued use of “hey man,” and stereotypes assumed as fact, also acknowledged by Rose, but Chris is happy to let it go, implying that this happens everywhere, and that if this is the worst of it, it’s entirely ignorable for their brief visit. But Chris begins to notice very strange occurrences during their stay, odd behavior from the hired help, an African-American live-in housekeeper named Georgia, and a groundskeeper. Acting like characters out of Stepford, they are overly polite and accommodating, and their facial expressions betray an underlying sense of sorrow and terror. More strangeness comes in the middle of their first night, when Chris attempts to go outside to have a cigarette, and ends up being hypnotized by Rose’s mom under the guise of helping to end his addiction, but ultimately revealing a devastating backstory about a deep-seated sense of guilt he has been carrying ever since he was a child. And soon after things escalate quickly from unsettling to a full-on horror show.
Get Out is structured around three main plot points, which creates a great arc for the story and provides it with the necessary forward momentum. The first part establishes inherent racism as a very real and viable affliction while investing the audience in the lives of its main characters, audience surrogates for the introduction and validation of its themes. The second part is built around twisting these observations from their local color roots into something far more sinister, and it’s here where Peele shows off his understanding of great storytelling, purposely adding seemingly throwaway character traits and aspects of plot which will all be used later in part three, when things reach the breaking point, and Get Out becomes the horror film it has been teasing the entire first hour. Get Out</em never subordinates its characters for an agenda, but instead uses its platform as an extension of character, creating palpable fear in Chris, turning the psychological into the tangible, drawing a supremely wild story grown from strands of truth.
Jordan Peele is no stranger to intelligent, well-written stories, considering his experience writing for MadTV, his sketch comedies with Keegan-Michael Key, and as writer of last year’s hilarious cat caper comedy Keanu, which can now be seen as a primer for the more advanced structure of Get Out. With its crazy high Rotten Tomatoes score of 99%, which is even higher than Oscar winners La La Land and Moonlight, Get Out‘s real claim to fame might just be commanding universal appeal and acclaim for an intensely gory horror film that dabbles in such sensitive subject matter. At the very least the film is a big step forward in social justice genre fare, and I wonder if it will spark a legion of imitators that might not bring Peele’s sense of craftsmanship to their subject matter. While not without its flaws, mostly from Peele’s inexperienced visual sense which leads to oddly incorrect camera placement at least in the beginning, specifically in building up so much tension around the first meeting with the parents only to frame it in an extreme wide shot with no close-ups, Get Out still delivers the goods. Another slight irritation is an obvious disparity between the film’s trailer and the final product, which shows a close-up of Catherine Keener’s face while Bradley Whitford asks Chris and Rose how long this “thaaang” has been going on, instead of his, a visual that seems like a foregone conclusion, but which was inexplicably altered in the final cut. Far from deal breakers, it’s easy to see how with a film like this the image was not Peele’s primary concern, though I hope it’s something he grows more into through future projects.
All in all, with Get Out the hype should be believed. It will more than likely become the horror film to which all are compared in 2017, inspiring much needed conversations all across the county hand in hand with its fine tuned story, offering a great escape and a healthy dose of reality simultaneously. Get Out is a rare horror film that demands closer inspection, and delivers on its promises. Don’t miss it.
The Verdict: Rave