Get Out

Get Out

Jordan Peele’s Foray Into Horror Leans on the Humour Sparingly While Indulging in its Social Commentary


Get Out is not a subtle film. Every conversation throughout the movie is not so much underpinned by racial tension as it is openly inviting discomfort at how clumsily people (and, most specifically, white Americans) try to talk around racial barriers. “Do they know I’m black?”, Chris asks his affluent caucasian girlfriend Rose, curious as to whether her parents have any idea that she’ll be bringing home a black dude for dinner. Though she assures Chris that her folks couldn’t be less concerned with the colour of his skin, the wry smile he gives her says that he’s been in this situation before and is fairly sure how it’s gonna play out. Of course, he’s plenty fucking wrong about that: no one has ever been in this situation before.

Instead of spoiling the impending horrors that await Chris at the Armitage estate, let’s address the reasons that this movie doesn’t bother to be particularly nuanced. To start with, it’s a genre picture (and a short one at that), a psychological thriller-cum-horror flick that needs to spend all available screen time laying the groundwork for the stomach-churning payoff it builds towards. But, more pressingly, a film that addresses racism in 2017 – when a man who looks like a playdoh figurine of a Klansman’s wet dream is President – can’t really afford the luxury of subtlety.

The point is that we should be beyond this, that a gathering of elderly white folks in a high-class suburb shouldn’t automatically result in people asking Rose whether the sex is better with her black boyfriend, or her father Dean mentioning apropos of nothing that he would’ve voted for Obama a third time if it were allowed. Yeah, this kind of thing seems ghastly and antiquated, but it speaks to the current, weirdly backwards landscape of post-political correctness that it’s not even a little bit of a stretch to imagine it actually happening.

Once again, though, this isn’t purely an allegory or racial satire, and all of that socially awkward stuff is relatively harmless compared to what follows. Indeed, Get Out is a slick, tightly-wound, nerve-plucking, colon-twinging, overwhelming midfuck that will leave your fingernails embedded into either the nearest armrest or forearm of the person sitting next to you (and, if you’re reading this random person in seat A-8, I am so, so sorry).

Well, that’s why you wear long sleeves dude. (Universal Pictures)

It builds with the same inexorable, gut-hollowing thrill as a theme park attraction, but not one that follows any linear path. It’s a ride like the Giant Drop, except that it spends almost a full hour on the ascent while you make stilted small talk with the Mormon couple sitting next to you when suddenly one of them pulls out a gun and you start playing Russian Roulette while desperately waiting for the plunge you know is coming. When it hits, it’s a sensation like little else, a holistic free-fall into unknown territory that, despite how much of it was telegraphed, you will not be prepared for.

A good deal of the credit for this goes to writer and first-time director Jordan Peele, best known for his work on the sketch comedy show Key & Peele with Keegan-Michael Key. Peele – like Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and Richard Pryor before him – is a comedian attuned to the absurdity of the way privilege is allotted based on the colour of one’s skin. It’s a reality he copes with by drawing out the specific vein of racism that exists in America, acknowledging the inherent struggles of being a black life that has to fight simply just to “matter”. But, y’know, he’s a fucking comedian, so he spins grim situations to suit his madcap sensibilities, like on Key & Peele‘s “Suburban Zombies” or “Negrotown” sketches.

So yeah, weirdly enough, his ability to skewer race relations makes him a natural fit for a mysterious thriller with a racial bent. What’s most remarkable, however, is Peele’s innate ability to ratchet up tension with minimal exertion. The opening scene of the film is a strategic longshot that, despite its apparent simplicity, involves a moving car and jump scare that must’ve taken countless rehearsals to appear so fluid and shocking. His use of closeups – especially on the enigmatic supporting black characters who appear throughout the film – are masterfully unsettling, while the way his frantic, busy images are paired with an oppressive score evinces a claustrophobic unease. For a directorial debut, it’s incredibly assured and visually distinct without seeming ostentatious or wanky.

This will be your face just as everything starts to go… horribly wrong. (Universal Pictures)

As I wouldn’t dream of revealing any further plot details, let’s talk about the cast: fuck me, has there been a better acted psychological horror film in the last five years… that is, besides Green Room? Daniel Kaluuya, for one, is perfectly suited to the role of Chris, a level-headed guy who has clearly experienced a lot of skewed “white people speak” in his time and yet is still thrown off his guard by the Armitages’ level of perversity. Girls‘ Allison Williams plays Rose, the daffy white girl, with naive charm, while Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener as her parents Dean and Missy are the perfect mix of an affable and yet weirdly stand-offish couple who are clearly hiding something nefarious.

Two other roles stand out in particular: Stephen Root plays Jim, a blind man who could care less about Chris’ race (again, very on the nose) and crafts an entire world of regret and mystery in just two scenes. Now, because this is a horror film, the very fact that there’s a blind man generates tension by default: either he’s not to be trusted, or he’s literally the only one you can trust. Then there’s Caleb Landry Jones as Jeremy, Rose’s eccentric brother. Now look, there are some fucking great scenes in this movie, but the one I keep coming back to is his engaging yet barely contained speech about jujitsu very early on in the film. It’s a masterclass in suggestive performance, perfectly straddling the line between being just a little drunkenly intense and unspeakably terrifying.

Something else that stands out when watching Get Out – especially if you’re a sad, hardline television junkie – is its innate connection to so many recent TV shows that traffic in similar issues and atmospheres. Kaluuya, for one, had his most memorable role in the last five years as Bing on Black Mirror‘s second episode “Fifteen Million Merits“, a show that has seen its fair share of creepy, dystopian scenarios play out with discomforting inevitability. Keith Stanfield, who has a small but pivotal role here, plays breakout character Darius in Donald Glover’s Atlanta. Additionally, there’s a scene in that show eerily similar to one in Get Out where a well-meaning, older white dude leads a young black guy through his hall of treasured “cultural” relics (not to mention that Glover’s hit track “Redbone” scores the opening credits here).

And he couldn’t be happier about it. (FX)

Even Pamela Adlon’s Better Things, which doesn’t typically deal with issues of race, has an episode where Sam brings home her black friend Mel for dinner, who is told an incredibly insensitive story by Sam’s elderly mother which Mel said might not have happened if she had been prepared for a black guy coming over. This is to say nothing of Insecure, Black-ish and Survivor’s Remorse and – while it may seem misguided to lump all of these “black stories” in with one another – it shows there’s a renewed focus in narratives being explored across the big and small screens that have too often been overlooked.

Ultimately, beyond its desire to lay bare the extent to which America has widened the yawning racial gulf at its core, Get Out makes a case for the sort of film you rarely see done well these days: a batshit crazy, shit-your-pants scary flick designed to make you grateful that there’s no way its most abject horrors could be a reality. Yet…

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