In his debut genre effort, comedian Jordan Peele delivers one of the flat-out best horror movies of the decade. GET OUT serves up a brilliant piece of art. Peele alternates the mood from chilling and hysterical with ease while lacing his work with nods to classic genre efforts. At its core, GET OUT offers a devastating examination about what it is like to be a black person in white America today.
Peele hammers that message home before the title sequence rolls when a lone black man (Lakeith Stanfield) finds himself wandering the streets of Suburbia in the middle of the night. He knows how much he stands out in this neighborhood and does all he can to retreat within himself, particularly after another car pulls up and starts trailing him. The man turns tail and heads in the opposite direction, believing he is conscious of how risky the situation can turn out for him. It’s moments later that he’s struck from behind, choked out and shoved into the trunk of a car. It’s a scene often reserved for the role of a young, beautiful white girl who finds herself stalked by the dangerous “other” lurking out of sight in the shadows. It serves a definitive statement by Peele that GET OUT is going to twist the accepted tropes of horror into something new, transgressive and challenging.
Peele builds on this theme with the introduction of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young, black photographer involved in an interracial relationship with Rose (Allison Williams). Chris remains wary about his upcoming weekend trip to meet Rose’s family for the first time. He questions her regarding whether her parents know if she’s dating a black man, then gently pushes back against her being incredulous whether or not that should matter. Rose comes off as a special brand of naive: a “color blind” white and privileged liberal who assures her boyfriend that her family isn’t racist: “My dad would have voted for Obama a third time if he could.”
It doesn’t take long for Chris’ predictions to come true. A roadside accident involving a deer finds an officer demanding Chris’ identification despite the fact that he was the passenger, not the driver. Things are no better once Rose and Chris arrive at her parent’s home. Rose’s father Dean (Bradley Whitford) plays as a brilliant caricature of a certain brand of smug, white and liberal. Oblivious to Chris’ obvious discomfort, Dean parades him around the sprawling family estate while tossing word salad approximations of solidarity with the young man. As he relays the story of his grandfather losing out a spot on the 1936 Olympics to Jesse Owens with a sort of familial pride, the audience grows keenly aware it’s not an anecdote he feels the need to share with his white friends. The only other persons of color are Walter and Georgina. They serve as the groundsman and housekeeper, both of whom come off as stiff, robotic and empty vessels awaiting their next command from their masters.
Get Out owes so much of what makes it work to the idea that innocuous, complimentary actions come with pernicious motives. Of course Catherine Keener’s psychiatrist character would have no covert motives in putting Chris under hypnotherapy so he can break his smoking habit! For Sure there’s no agenda in a gaggle of moneyed, white liberals breaking their arms to pat themselves on the back when they assure Chris just how comfortable they feel in his presence.There’s an extra level of discomfort that comes from a middle age white woman groping Chris’ bicep while asking Rose “Is it true what they say? Is it better?” while conjuring up images of young black men paraded up onto auction blocks a century and a half ago.
Without delving too far into specifics for fear of spoiling the pure joy to be found watching Get Out’s story unspool. Peele weaves nods to classic horror from year’s past. As Chris pinballs from one encounter with the wealthy, white haired Caucasian power couple to another, a sense of disorientation sets in. One can draw a parallel between Kaluuyu’s Chris and The Wicker Man’s doomed Sgt. Howie or Mia Farrow’s Rosemary. Like these horror forebearers, Chris comes off as a lone voice of sanity, trapped in an increasingly unnerving situation. There’s verbal nods to Kubrick and The Shining and the trio of black characters Georgina, Walter and Andrew feel like pod people lifted straight from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Peele manages to balance terror and humor while delivering a blistering critique on modern race relations. Get Out manages to avoid the easy target of the growing, white nationalist movement that feels emboldened in making public their racist views with the rise of Trump’s brand of populism. Peele instead turns a critical eyes towards a brand of white liberalism that considers itself living in a “post racial” world. Get Out hammers home the message that while racial progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go and there’s no time for self-congratulatory pats on the back. The trio of pod-like black characters have only gained acceptance in the white world when they’ve been stripped of their culture and assimilated. Even then they serve as tokens: arm candy for randy old women longing for a sexual thrill and the hired help that know their place remains in the background. To be proud, strong and black is to have the same kind of target on one’s self as being a leggy blonde camp counselor at Crystal Lake. The ghosts of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and so many other black men and children cut down looms heavy in the background of Get Out.
Peele also taps into his comedy roots throughout Get Out with a terrific sendup of standard genre tropes. LilRey Howery serves as both comic relief and the audience surrogate as Rod, Chris’ best friend. Howery steals every scene he appears in with a buoyant performance as a TSA agent who suspects something is amiss long before Chris does. As his best friend starts sending him cryptic texts, Rod begins to unravel the mystery, and warns Chris to be careful he’s not involved with a bunch of white folks looking to sell black men and women into sexual slavery.
It’s the blend of horror and humor that make the third act such a cathartic experience to watch. as Chris gains both the knowledge as to what lies in store for him and the means to fight back, the film takes a brutal turn. The violence of Get Out is fast, brutal and visceral. It’s also well earned. Throughout the latter stages of the film I found myself thinking over and over again, “you can’t let them get away with this, they cannot get away with this.”
If Peele never makes another genre film again, then Get Out will serve as one hell of a mic drop. I hope that’s not the case. In just his debut effort, Jordan Peele has mastered the language of the horror film. Go ahead and allow yourself to believe the hype. Get Out delivers one of the most subversive and satisfying efforts in mainstream horror cinema in a long time.