“Sometimes…if there’s too many white people, I get nervous.”
Some of the very best horror films/psychological thrillers succeed by taking a relatable source of anxiety and cranking it to 11. For example, The Exorcist can be viewed as the worst-case scenario for anyone suffering a crisis of faith, while The Shining taps into the madness of being cooped up with your family for too long. Get Out works because it uses the nerve-wracking experience of meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time as a jumping-off point to tell a subversive, insightful, and entertaining story that mashes together Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Stepford Wives.
“Do they know I’m black?”
The anxiety that photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) feels about meeting his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the first time is magnified by the fact that Rose apparently hasn’t told them that he’s black. We meet the pair as they prepare to head to Rose’s parents secluded lake house for a weekend trip. Rose assures Chris everything will be fine, but Chris’s best friend — TSA screener Rod (Lil Rel Howery) — comically warns him about the danger he’s about to face.
“Don’t go to a white girl’s parents’ house!”
Rose’s parents are doctors who mess with people’s heads — neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotherapist Missy (Catherine Keener) — but they seem like perfectly pleasant people on the surface. However, Chris immediately notices that something is wrong with this idyllic scene. The only other black people he sees on the premises — maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) — behave in a stiff, bizarrely pacified manner. Chris’s discomfort and isolation is only magnified when Missy and Dean host a bunch of guests at the estate, one of whom brings a similarly subservient younger black man as a guest. Is Chris being completely paranoid or is there something sinister going on here?
“Black is in fashion.”
Get Out is being touted as springing “From the mind of Jordan Peele”, one half of the hilarious comedy duo Key & Peele. That Comedy Central sketch series was brilliant for a number of reasons, but many of the pair’s best skits poked fun at and subverted modern race relations. So while a horror film from comic-by-trade Peele seems completely out-of-left-field, this funny, off-the-wall, politically-conscious result shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to anyone who has enjoyed his work.
Peele (who directed and wrote the screenplay) uses the exceedingly familiar framework of horror thrillers to freshly comment on black and white issues that have been examined for decades. For instance, Dean realizes that his palatial home and all-black staff make him seem like a plantation owner. And the idea that young black men are being targeted — and touted as being stronger, more athletic and cooler than anyone in Rose’s parents’ orbit — cleverly speaks to the concept of cultural appropriation.
The best part is all of that stuff is in the subtext. Get Out doesn’t whack you over the head the way last year’s Birth of a Nation did; this movie is content to nail (and gently mock) the way some well-meaning white people try to flaunt their racial tolerance by talking about how much they supported Obama. It’s also an effective, creative psychological thriller in its own right. The movie begins with a brief, chilling cold open featuring a young black man (Lakeith Stanfield) running into the dark side of the suburbs. And the sequences where Chris is hypnotized — supposedly so he can quite smoking — are particularly dark and nightmarish.
Kaluuya (probably best known for the excellent “Fifteen Million Merits” episode of Black Mirror) makes for a low-key, compelling hero. A lot of the performance is reactionary, and Peele serves the character well by giving him legitimate psychological baggage…and not making him the typical Horror Movie Dummy. That being said, the movie is pretty much stolen by Howery. (Think of a chunkier, less-grating Kevin Hart.) His loyal character is basically the only person in this horror movie who realizes he’s in a horror movie. Meanwhile, Williams does a good job being properly annoyed by her overbearing parents. At first, I thought Whitford and (especially) Keener might have been tipping their creepiness a little too early, but it soon became evident that Peele designed a movie didn’t hinge on any one big twist/revelation.
Get Out simultaneously leans into some of the genre’s more ridiculous jump scares while bringing a funny and smart perspective to a type of film that too often lacks humor and intelligence. In other words, this movie is no joke.