We’ve all been in that weird, unnerving situation where it seems like everyone in the room is completely different than you. This seems to happen much more these days in the divisive landscape that we currently experience in America. Get Out takes the premise of a stranger in a strange world, adds in some pertinent social commentary about race and racism, and mixes it up with an interesting horror angle that is both disturbing and darkly humorous.
Jordan Peele, one half of the sketch comedy series Key and Peele, showcases some serious genre filmmaking chops in his directorial debut. Though that shouldn’t be too big of a surprise for those who watch his comedic television show, which has tackled the genre of horror and different social commentary themes on numerous occasions. It also shouldn’t be a surprise that Peele pays homage to horror scares with near perfect execution; good comedy is all about timing, so is the composition of a good scare. But it’s more than just the frights and the humor and the gore, Get Out shines a light on an aspect of American culture that is so clearly and personally on display almost everywhere you look: the horror of stereotypes, assumptions, and racism.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is a photographer in a relationship with a woman named Rose (Allison Williams). Rose is excited to introduce Chris to her family, who live in a small estate in a remote town. However, Chris is concerned about going because Rose hasn’t told her Caucasian family that he is African American. That's really all the premise you need. Going in with more information will ruin the experience.
Peele introduces the film in a unique way, as a young black man (Lakeith Stanfield) walks through a suburb that looks eerily familiar to the town of Haddonfield in Halloween, with houses that resemble those found on the titular road in A Nightmare on Elm Street. He is targeted and attacked after making every attempt to sidestep a situation. It’s a familiar horror movie moment done extremely well; one that introduces the tone of a story filled with dread and suspicion, but also humor and a sense of authenticity. It also places the viewer in the perspective of the outsider in this world.
From this moment, Peele continues to pile on the awkward, the anxious, the peculiar, and the downright frightening situations, creating a claustrophobic environment that doesn’t offer an easy escape. Even moments of levity come in the form of a telephone that connects Chris to the outside world and his friend Rod (LilRel Howery). When this vessel of escape becomes an object in jeopardy, the walls close in further. It’s an ingenious strategy that Peele utilizes to continue building the tension and introduce the viewer to the real mystery.
What grounds Get Out are the moments when real life steps in; when Chris must appease his girlfriend’s family’s obvious stereotypes and prejudices, when the separation of friends and foes becomes blurred because of how familiar and normal these race-concerned situations are for Chris. It’s not until he sees people like him acting in ways that are so far-flung from ordinary when his suspicions are aroused, when what some would call ignorance begins to have a menacing and threatening undertone.
In one of the best scenes of the film, Chris has a personal moment with the family's black maid, Georgina (Betty Gabriel). He expresses concern and nervousness about the strange situation and is greeted with a chilling response of a forced smile with intense eyes filled with tears, outwardly maintaining composure and internally screaming to be heard. This metaphor is a powerful tool and Peele brilliantly wields it in the same way blood is splashed around in slasher films.
Good horror stories always try to say something, just take a look at George A. Romero’s seminal social commentary in Dawn of the Dead. The remarkable aspect of Get Out isn’t the scares or the monsters, it’s the thought-provoking, frightening portrayal of race and racism. Here’s hoping that Peele has more horror to share in the future.
Movie Score: 4/5