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‘Get Out’ (review)

Produced by Jason Blum,
Edward H. Hamm Jr., Sean McKittrick
Written and Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams,
Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford,
Caleb Landry Jones, Lil Rel Howery,
Keith Stanfield, Stephen Root

 

“You know we don’t do that.”

The woman to my right is talking at the screen as Chris’s hand reaches for a slightly ajar door to investigate what lies in the dark. And I have to say, I was thinking the exact same thing.
But therein lies one of the many unique aspects of this film. It has immense relatability for an audience usually bypassed by the horror genre: people of color.

The racially-charged fears touched upon in Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out are commonplace to millions of people that find themselves trapped in another person’s world.

Getting ready to go away to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the weekend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) wonders if she has shared that he is black. Assured of their liberal and accepting nature, Chris embarks on a trip to their idyllic suburban home. Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) are pleasant enough and he settles in for the weekend.

During a party, he meets more of their similar-minded white friends and starts to wonder about their intense curiosity in him. As the motives of their interest become clear, Chris is thrown into a sinister plot with a sharp social commentary twist.

If you hear of this movie simply by word of mouth, you are in luck as the trailer gives away far too much. The first third of the movie is light in its set up of the themes. There is the predictable Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner arc along with assurances that her family will not be a problem. This includes the fact her father “would have voted for Barack Obama a third time if he had the chance,” which drew audible moans from the crowd.

Indeed, it is awkward fun to watch Rose and her family bend over backwards to hammer the idea of their accepting white liberalism into Chris’s head. Peele did an excellent job capturing the kind of mannerisms and statements that can be made in the clumsiest ways with the best intentions. At a party happening later that weekend the blunt comments and questions of the guests double down on the way that compliments on physique or qualities can easily stray into something more akin to property assessments.

Throughout all of this Chris never sees another face that looks like his outside of the quiet and eerily pleasant maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) who each give off a half Stepford Wife, half Steppin’ Fetchit vibe.

When he finally meets another black man at the party, Chris feels relief for a brief moment before he realizes that something is terribly wrong with this man. Anyone simply reading the script may not understand the impact of the performances as so much is conveyed between tone and eye contact. From lilts and carefully measured pronunciation to protracted staredowns and fearful darting glances, there is a subtlety and familiarity to the underlying terror of acting in a polar opposite way to how you are feeling at that moment.

More than a Stepford situation, it brings to mind movies like Birth of a Nation and Django Unchained, where the haunted look in a slave’s eyes exists in tandem with a pleasant smile and manner.

What is unsaid is a better hint at foreboding than many of the clever verbal hints the audience remembers with an “aha!” in the bloody but satisfying second half.

Luckily, there is one person who exists to share what everyone wishes they could say. Peele is a comedy veteran and he brings a popular trope to life in the character of Chris’s best friend played by comedian Lil Rel Howery. He bluntly says what the audience is thinking and relentlessly asks why his friend has not left this questionable situation yet. Every phone call between the two garners roars of laughter from the audience, breaking some of the racial tension.

Daniel Kaluuya is excellent as Chris, cracking jokes as easily as he turns fearful and stone-faced while Allison Williams is almost a duplicate of her serviceable character on Girls. Standout as the Democratic and demonic parents, Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford command all of their scenes regardless of who else is onscreen. They are indistinguishable from any “coastal elite” mid-to-late 50s upper middle class that you may meet at yoga or on the golf course. Pitting this class as the villain, those who are best known to the underrepresented as allies, makes the chilling suggestion that there is no level of wealth, education, or love of Obama that would make it safe to engage with white people if you are black.

The movie works well as both social commentary and an addition to the horror shelves, but it is the first kind of fear that will stick with you when you leave the theater. Some of the greatest in the genre come from the idea that the scariest thing onscreen is what could happen in real life. Jaws plays off of the fear of what lurks beneath the waves. Silence of the Lambs is terrifying because it could be any of us abducted and thrown into the hole in the basement. What is merely awkwardness and discomfort to one population watching this movie is a well-known terror to the other.

The horror genre has always been sparse on diverse main characters that make it to the end of the movie. To fold in the tropes, the commentary, and the real fear that is constant to minorities told they are in a safe and “post-racial society” makes this a movie that will divide the theater in the ways it is enjoyed, and in the way it is discussed long after the lights come up.

 

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