At one point in Get Out, the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, one half of the sketch comedy duo Key and Peele, the main character proclaims, “it’s not what they said, it’s how they say it”. In a world where racism has been pushed to the surface and groups like Black Lives Matter are making headlines, it’s one of the film’s strongest statements. This is my review of Get Out, one of the best films of 2017, and one of the most socially relevant horror films to be released in a long time.
Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario) plays Chris, an African American photographer who is heading out of the city for a weekend with his white girlfriend, Rose played by Girls Allison Williams. Chris is meeting Rose’s parents for the first time “Do they know I’m black?” he asks her. “Should they?” she responds, and then laughs it off, reassuring him that they are definitely, not racists. On the surface, Get Out is a well constructed horror film. Below the surface, it’s delving into the underlying race issues that we as a society believe to have overcome.
The film starts off on an uneasy note when Chris and Rose hit a deer and the police officer called to the scene asks Chris for his ID, even though Alison was driving. The typical way a scene like this would play out in a horror film would be a small town cop arriving on scene and acting creepy, a premonition of things to come. In Get Out Rose smoothly handles the situation, coming to an unspoken understanding with the cop implying that he is only asking for Chris’ ID because he is black. The couple continues on and we shrug off the cop incident as well, but this is an example of why Get Out is genius. By Ruth, the white person neutralizing the situation, it no longer feels like a threat, even though it is just as big a warning sign as the creepy red neck cop trope. By normalizing this situation, we’re ignoring the problem, and as a result Rose and Chris, and our society at large, will suffer the consequences.
Rose’s parents welcome Chris with open arms but something feels off, and the film does a good job of slowing building this sense of unease with the audience. There is the awkward family dinner with Rose’s brother when he tries to play fight with Chris. The fact that the housekeeper and groundskeeper are black, yet treat Chris with a strange air of coldness. But the tensions really increase when Rose’s parents throw a big garden party. Chris can’t quite pinpoint his unease, and at first he is a good sport meeting all of the parent’s older white friends. He smiles politely through their well intentioned but inappropriate attempts at conversation. We get the impression that he’s used to this, and has been in this situation many times before. We sympathize with Chris and get a taste of what it feels like to be navigating through a dominant white society through the eyes of a black man.
By the time he figures out the truth, it’s too late. One could say that it’s a bit of an analogy for the last US Election. We kept patting ourselves on the back thinking that we had progressed as a society. When Donald Trump won we were shocked, and all the hate lying dormant for years was allowed back into the light. It’s the main theory behind horror films– whatever we repress as a society, comes back as the monster. The truth behind what’s really going on in Roses’ family is truly monstrous and horrific. When Chris’ friend Rod played by Lil Rel Howery, who steals every scene, goes to the police station with a theory about his missing friend, the group of ethnic cops laugh in his face. It’s a funny scene and one of the reasons why this film works so well – Peele makes us think even when we’re laughing. I’m sure we would have laughed too if someone had told us a few years ago who would be running the White House.
There are many layers to Get Out, and I look forward to watching it again. This film struck the perfect balance of pleasure and horror, executing its themes with a smart script, great pacing and just the right amount of gore and wit. All the performances were spot on, and I really enjoyed watching Catherine Keener in a role so unlike any other we’ve seen her play. Daniel Kaluuya is excellent as well, struggling to keep his cool as a good boyfriend even though he knows something is amiss, all the while working through his own inner demons. It’s also refreshing to see a male as the main victim of a horror film instead of your typical Final Girl. There’s something to be said when the outcast, virgin Final Girl is replaced with an African American man.
A suburban horror film mixed with mad scientist influences Get Out is like Stepford Wives crossed with Invasion of the Body Snatchers with some Re-Animator thrown in. The film forces us to examine the real monsters in our modern society, and the dangers of normalizing or ignoring unresolved racial tensions.
Written and directed by: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams and Catherine Keener