Jordan Peele’s Get Out is such a brilliant, effective hybrid of horror and dark comedy that, for those who have heard or seen nothing about this film including its trailer, I want to suggest that they remain that way and experience the film for themselves. The film does not employ cheap horror tactics but rather relies on the intelligence and personalities of the characters, psychological motivations, and biting social satire for its scares and thrills. If that is enough to already draw you in, just go see the film and shelve this review until later, even if I will try to preserve the film’s surprises for those who keep reading.
The suspenseful single-take opening scene plays with horror movie tropes while preying on the fear of an African-American man being misunderstood on a simple evening walk down the street. The film then introduces an interracial couple, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), an African-American man, and Rose Armitage (Alison Williams), a Caucasian woman. She invites him over to dinner at her family’s estate for the weekend. He asks whether her family knows he is black, which she apparently hasn’t. She reassures him that her family is liberal-minded and that they will not care. Since this is 50 years after the groundbreaking 1967 movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with a similar scenario, surely he must have nothing to worry about, right?
When the couple arrive at her family’s home, the parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) Armitage embrace Chris with opening arms. However, that scene, which may have been a tender moment, is underscored with ominous music and filmed in a wide shot at a medium distance to give an almost voyeuristic feel. The camera pulls back to reveal the viewpoint of another key character, a black gardener named Walter (Martin Henderson). There is also a black maid named Georgina (Betty Gabriel), whose face shows tears to laughs in the span of seconds to yield a creepily confusing emotion. Another key player is Rose’s brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones).
We learn that Dean is a neurosurgeon and Missy is a psychiatrist that specializes in hypnosis (I would love to hear them arguing over the diagnosis of a mental condition, albeit at a safe distance). Dean emphasizes how “liberal-minded” he is by stating, “I would have voted for Obama for a third term, if I could.” Bits like this and other white people at a big guest party, such as one talking about golf and stating he loves “Tiger (Woods),” sharply reveal a particular kind of condescending racism that is not overt, but veiled, not vitriolic, but discourteous anyway.
All of this gradually reveals an undercurrent that is far more sinister with some elements of The Stepford Wives. How far it goes and how daring it gets (and it is very audacious) , you will discover for yourself. What I do want to praise is the level of craft that writer/director Jordan Peele displays in his directorial debut (and he reportedly shot the film in 28 days). I have not seen an episode of the comedy series, Key and Peele (though I am tempted to now) but I would guess that the level of biting satire and some hilarious lines, especially from LilRel Howery, who plays Chris’ TSA agent best friend, Rod Williams, are reminiscent of that show. What Peele proves beyond his comedy is his command to handle the unnerving horror elements with careful pacing and use of string music. Alfred Hitchcock famously said he loved to play his audience like a piano in his thrillers and he would have been proud with some interludes that Peele plays, especially in the last 30 minutes.
The performances are all perfectly pitched and a refreshing quality about all the characters is that no one seems to make an illogical choice. Again, I will not reveal who is who to preserve the surprises, but while the villainous characters set up their diabolical plan step by step so that we can follow it, the sympathetic characters smartly try to think their way out of their predicament. It is gratifying to see characters who can challenge the audience’s survival intelligence and ingenuity rather than making dumb decisions that make us want to shout at the screen in lesser horror movies.
Word of mouth has carried this film since it was chosen for the secret midnight screening at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The movie has already become a sleeper hit, even when it opened during Oscar weekend, usually a dry time for newly opening movies. It is rare when the buzz alone on the quality of a film can drive it to popularity but this film’s success is proof that low-budget well-made movies can break through to the masses. A few people that I asked about this film before I saw it said it is “really good” and didn’t say much more. I would like to leave it on a similar note.
USA. 2017. Universal Pictures presents a film written and directed by Jordan Peele. Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root, and LilRel Howery. Rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references.