It’s OK to feel uncomfortable sitting in the theater watching writer-director Jordan Peele’s debut feature, Get Out, a deliriously brutal social commentary-cum-horror film.
In fact, it’s fair to say Peele wouldn’t want it any other way.
But that discomfort might not just be from the mounting dread of the first two acts as Peele expertly lays his groundwork or the bloody violence that adrenalizes the film’s climax.
No, it’s likely more due to viewers squirming, seeing themselves on screen, or at the least, seeing a familiar moment from their past when they awkwardly interacted with an individual of different color or heritage.
Get Out may well be the first genre film of its kind to ask audiences to assume a different perspective than that of the final girl squaring off against a gruesome, indestructible killer. Here, the hero is a young black man trying to survive a nightmarish scenario, which, in early 2017, is both eerily prescient and chillingly appropriate.
Get Out begins with a shock before introducing its two main characters, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), a young couple in love. Chris, a photographer, has been invited by Rose to get away for the weekend and meet her parents, Missy (Catherine Keener), a hypnotherapist, and Dean (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon.
Chris casually asks Rose if her parents know he’s black. She says no, why should it matter. Before too long, she (and we) understand why in a big way.
Chris’s skin color is the first thing everyone notices. Dean immediately talks in slang, trying poorly to ingratiate himself, and even goes so far as to say he would have voted for Obama for a third term, if possible. Dean and Missy’s lily-white, upper-crust friends all make mention of their favorite black athlete as soon as they meet Chris, as if their appreciation of the golfing skills of Tiger Woods will somehow endear them. One woman even asks Rose if it’s true, if being with a black man is better, like she has heard.
The first thing Chris notices is that the Armitage family employs two live-in black servants, Walter and Georgina, a fact that Dean tries to dismiss as him and his wife caring for the servants’ well-being and not that they enjoy the mundane tasks that Walter and Georgina dutifully perform.
Peele starts out by showing us the everyday exchanges, the tiny slips of the veil, that reveal how tenuous the relationship between races can be when gauged by the weight of history and the careful choice of specific words. Who hasn’t made such a gaffe, innocuous or not? But then he dives deeper, asking what if that might indicate something darker, something malicious, lurking just below.
Peele gained national attention as one half of the sketch comedy duo, Key & Peele, and his humor has always skewed (and skewered) race relations in modern-day society. His first script, which he co-wrote, for the action-comedy hybrid Keanu, imagined what a tough-guy, shoot-em-up movie might look like if the tough guys were battling over the affection of a kitten. It was a one-note concept that couldn’t support a feature-length film.
But Get Out isn’t meant to be funny, even though Peele wisely intersperses moments of levity with Chris’s best friend, Rod (the hysterical and scene-stealing Milton "Lil Rel" Howery). And Get Out more than satisfies its run time. In fact, I would have been happy for another 10 to 15 minutes to further explore and explain the genesis of the deviant and diabolical plot exposed in the movie’s final arc.
Peele gets the horror genre, and he maximizes moments to full effect, such as when Missy Armitage hypnotizes Chris to help him quit smoking. The visual effects that Peele utilizes to show the terror that someone under hypnosis might feel are revelatory, and unnerving.
But what he understands best is what it means to be an outsider looking in. And framing his film through Chris’s eyes allows him to give everyone – regardless of ethnicity – a taste of how disconnected and disconcerting that can feel.
There’s a good chunk of Get Out that we simply can’t discuss because it deserves to be experienced first-hand. Pro tip: Avoid spoilers, if possible, before arriving at the theater.
Suffice to say, there are two really good twists, a very-fitting homage to the mad scientist movies of the 1950s and several moments of gory comeuppance that had the preview audience cheering.
Much like the recent and criminally overlooked Desierto, writer-director Jonás Cuarón's visceral survival thriller about Mexican immigrants being stalked and killed by a renegade American "patriot" as they attempt to cross into the United States, filmmakers are beginning to use their art for more than entertainment's sake.
In that sense, Cuarón and Peele are the pioneers of a new kind of horror film, one that doesn't flinch in addressing what it means to live in a world where elected leaders incite violence against those who don't look or act like the norm.
Get Out is exceptionally entertaining, but it also forces us to confront and examine internally those little boxes where we hide our darkest, most politically incorrect thoughts and feelings. And its lasting impact isn't its body count, but rather the questions that linger long after the on-screen carnage is done.
Aren’t we all guilty of at least some complicit racism, regardless of how innocent that comment or thought or message board post might seem?
What if we – white America – really are the monster that other people fear?
How truly scary, indeed.
4 out of 5 stars.
Run Time: 105 minutes
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener
Opens: Now Playing