DIR/WRI: Jordan Peele • PRO: Jason Blum, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele • DOP: Toby Oliver • ED: Gregory Plotkin • DES: Rusty Smith • MUS: Michael Abels • CAST: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford
I believe it was Robert Bloch who said that comedy and horror are two sides of the same coin. Which is frustrating, because I was hoping I could be the source of such words of wisdom. Never mind. The point is, Jordan Peele is known for being really good at comedy, and now it turns out he’s really good at horror too.
Peele (from comedy duo Key and Peele fame), as writer and director, has created a masterpiece which has been a long time coming. A mainstream film in which the backwater rural folks aren’t yellow-toothed hillbillies, but are instead upper-class liberal elites. It’s the kind of film that couldn’t come from within the Hollywood machine (see: George Clooney’s Oscar acceptance speech), and, considering that it has been twenty-five years since Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, one of the paltry few horror movies with a black lead which acts as a direct commentary on white suburbia, it’s long overdue.
Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya as photographer Chris Washington, an African American man visiting his white girlfriend Rose’s family in upstate New York. Nervous that the Armitages will treat him differently because of his race, and warned jokingly by his best friend Rod (Lil Rei Howery) about the dangers of staying with them (“White people love making people sex slaves and shit!”), Rose (Allison Williams) has to convince Chris that her parents might occasionally put their foot in it, but are well-meaning. Unsurprisingly, Chris’s unease is not unwarranted. The first sign that something it off is the Armitages’ home help, an African American couple who start behaving erratically at odd moments. The next day, during the family’s annual get-together, Chris encounters a black man whom he vaguely recognises among the white neighbours. However, this man seems to have no memory of Chris. Things spiral further out of control as Chris, discovering the sordid secrets behind the community’s relationship with its few black members, tries to get in contact with Rod and attempts to get out before it’s too late.
While Get Out may, like 2016’s The Witch, fail to satisfy some horror fans’ desire for immediate shocks (not me though, I was terrified), it deals with some disturbing ideas, which linger in the movie’s aftermath. In the moment, it’s often hard to know whether to scream or laugh, and many of the performances (particularly that of Marcus Henderson as the groundskeeper Walter) tread a fine line between horror and comedy. Indeed, one of the most disturbing aspects of the film is just how gosh-darn likable the Armitages are; despite the film’s clear set-up and the chilling Ed Gein-esque taxidermy decorating the abode, it’s hard not to find the family’s table manners charming. This is helped immensely by the performances of Katherine Keener’s mother, who won’t take no for an answer, and Bradley Whitford’s impeccable dad-humoured dad. Even their embarrassing use of faintly racist language can be dismissed as a slip of the tongue.
Despite Get Out’s obvious focus on horror, Peele cleverly demonstrates the subtleties of the romantic relationship between the leads. The dynamic between Chris and Rose is interesting in the way is demonstrates the different perception of blackness as a lived experience in comparison with that of a white ally, and both Kaluuya and Williams are instrumental in this portrayal. While the film’s chaos inevitably overshadows these ideas by the end, the set-up is in and of itself a fascinating examination of a subject matter that deserves more attention. Hopefully this won’t be Peele’s only foray into the world of horror. Get Out is an ingenious satire on the commodification of the African American body in white American culture, which intelligently demonstrates the failings of white so-called liberals who will talk smugly of how they voted for Obama, but who ignore the casual racism of everyday life in America.
15A See IFCO for details
Get Out is released 17th March 2017
Get Out – Official Website