REVIEW: ‘Get Out’ embeds social commentary into an eerily plausible horror
Any movie that wades into a complex and divisive political discussion like race relations has to toe a fine line. Play things too safe, and the film will feel like a waste of time. Conversely, take too strident of a position and audiences may rebel. This is why movies like Get Out – the new horror-comedy from Jordan Peele – feels like such an achievement.
First and foremost, Peele’s goal is to craft an audience-pleaser that’s best described as 50/50 mix of psychological thriller and comedy. But since almost all the scares and laughs are informed by a racial dynamic between the characters, the movie reveals itself as a rare (successful) fusion of entertainment and political expression. More importantly, Peele’s movie doesn’t take on the familiar us-versus-them aspect of race relations; instead, Get Out explores a much more nuanced situation. This gives the writer-director the ability to lure us into his haunted house with a front of jokes, only to pull back the curtain on a nightmare that seems eerily plausible.
The movie begins with a charming Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner set-up. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, perhaps best known from the first season of Black Mirror) and his girlfriend Rose (Girls’ Allison Williams) head to her parents’ estate for the weekend. Almost as soon as they arrive, the welcoming overtures made by Rose’s parents give way to sinister clues about what’s really going on in Rose’s affluent rural community. Chris soon realizes that his fears about being accepted by Rose’s family couldn’t be more misplaced; instead, the better question may be why her family was so eager to have him visit in the first place.
Get Out is a movie that’s particularly vulnerable to spoilers – as Williams recently pointed out to Stephen Colbert – so I have to tread carefully in talking about it. But one of the more compelling ways to understand Get Out is as a classic “what if?” movie. Films like this take a simple concept (here, a black man being introduced to his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time) and imagine what happens when benign comments or awkward situations are exaggerated to extremes. Peele turns an ideal situation on its head: what if a young woman’s parents were too accepting of her black boyfriend? What would that look like? It’s one thing to make a movie about hard-core racists, but something else entirely to make a movie about people who are so progressive and liberal in their thinking that they become as terrifying as people who simply hate.
This technique of finding horror in everyday life is something that we get far too little of at the movies. The easier (and far less compelling) way to make a scary movie is to pick a supernatural creature and set them loose on some flawed but innocent characters. But as filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock proved time and again, the most rewarding horror films make audiences feel like they’re witnessing something that could happen to them. It’s a surefire way to achieve what Hitchcock described as one of his key goals: “Give them pleasure – the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare”.
Helping Peele get here is a an array of technical finesse, which he likely developed while working on the often elaborately staged sketches on his hit Comedy Central series Key and Peele. Despite Get Out being Peele’s first directorial credit, the film feels confidently made, with lush scenery and strong camerawork. The filmmakers also respect our intelligence by refusing to over-explain the central threat or to stage protracted fights and chase scenes. In the third act, when the action ramps up, sequences are short and to the point. This isn’t a film where the villains taunt the heroes and expose fatal flaws; the climax features several real surprises, and in my screening, the audience was cheering and applauding at certain moments.
For an actor with few starring appearances, Kaluuya makes an instant impression, filling Chris with a surprising amount of depth. Chris’ quiet observation of the weird interactions on the estate ties back to his career as a photographer, which in turn is ultimately one of the keys to the central mystery in the movie. Peele backs up Kaluuya with a well-tuned supporting cast, including Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, and delivering the funniest performance in the movie, LilRel Howery. A director like Peele, with so many connections in the entertainment business, might have felt tempted to stock the movie with stars, but Get Out relies instead on up-and-coming talents and veteran character actors, putting the focus where it should be, on the script.
As much fun as Get Out is, its approach to the social message in its script is something we need to see more in both movies and TV. Not every movie about race needs to be based on stories about opposition and confrontation; there are also compelling arguments to be made about the blind spots that still exist in communities that claim to support equality. And if those arguments can be delivered in more works like Get Out, so much the better.
Get Out gets three and a half stars out of four.
What did you think of Get Out? Were you as captivated as the majority of critics, or is there more the movie could have done with its social messaging? Join the discussion in the comments sections, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!