Directed By: Jordan Peele
Release Date: February 24, 2017
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener
Some films have to sit with me for a while after my first viewing of them for me to fully work through and process exactly what my thoughts are and how I feel about them beyond that initial, basic reaction one has when coming out of theater once it's over. This weekend, I had to do just that for Jordan Peele's horror/comedy Get Out, a film I had a blast seeing Thursday night after looking forward to it for quite some time but one that I wanted to hold off writing anything about so that it had time to really sink in.
Get Out is the story of a young photographer named Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) who accompanies his girlfriend Rose (played by Allison Williams) on a trip to meet her parents (played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) at their rural estate. Initially concerned about the fact that Rose hasn't informed her parents that he's black, Chris sets his worries aside and heads out with an open mind, and though Rose's parents are slightly awkward, they welcome him with open arms into their home. Of course, not everything is as it seems, and the more time Chris spends around Rose's family, the more obvious it is that something is wrong: From the family's robot-like maid and groundskeeper to an odd friend of the family, Chris notices that every African-American in the vicinity seems to be under some kind of trance, and as the weirdness only continues to escalate as part of a larger mystery, it may just be too late for Chris to escape from what he's been caught up in.
On paper, Get Out seems like quite the departure for Peele, who I liked back in his MadTV days and various other things he's popped up in over the years but really came to appreciate for his work on Key & Peele and his few episodes in the first season of Fargo. Up until now, Peele has really been known for his comedic efforts, but as anyone who's seen even just Key & Peele can testify to, all kinds of film genres beyond comedy have inspired and informed his work over the years. Get Out proves beyond a doubt that Peele knows his stuff when it comes to horror - after all, he also wrote the film - and the fact that it's such a solid piece of work despite being his directorial debut only serves to hammer that fact in.
When it comes to films like this that rely on all kinds of narrative twists and turns to power their fundamental narrative, I'm a firm believer in the idea that the less one knows about it going in, the better, and Get Out is no exception. And while I won’t spoil the specifics of the story, if there's any true fault about the film, it's that there is some predictability in terms of how it plays out, particularly during the final act; we've seen some of these beats play out in other thriller/horror films before and will continue to until the end of time. But what separates Get Out from the generic works we seem to get every few months is the overall package Peele delivers it in. Though this is a horror movie that wears its inspirations on its sleeves - echoes of films like The Stepford Wives or The Wicker Man unmistakably reverberate throughout, for instance - Peele still manages to bring his comedic sensibilities to the table, imbuing the film with actual personality and character that so many of these types of films fail to deliver.
In doing so, Peele makes Get Out a unique experience, one that often adheres to the tropes and conventions of the horror films he so clearly and dearly loves while offering an equally funny film at the same time, without either aspect undermining the other. It's a fine line to walk, as this isn't, say, Shaun of the Dead, where jokes are flying left and right under the parodical veneer of horror; it's a movie that thrives on long sequences of genuine tension and unease, doling out the occasional comedic reward as a release valve. That it works so effortlessly is nothing short of amazing in this day and age where character could've so easily been destroyed by a mandate for more jokes or more cheap jump scares.
It helps, too, that Peele stacked his film with a great, game cast. Whitford, Keener, and Williams all do solid work here, as do other cast members like Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, and Betty Gabriel, and Lil Rel Howery - who plays Chris' best friend, TSA agent Rod Williams - gets some of the biggest genuine laughs of the film, stealing every single scene he's a part of and, in some ways, serving as the film's heart. But really, this is Daniel Kaluuya's film to truly own, and he does, turning what undoubtedly would’ve been a cookie-cutter protagonist in a lesser project into someone worthy of actually rooting for. We learn more about Chris' past throughout the runtime that informs who he is, and even who he wants to be, and Kaluuya never stops striving to ensure that Chris is someone we can both relate to and want to spend time with, doing volumes with even the smallest of facial tics and expressions that always keep us informed of what he's going through and thinking without being saddled with unnecessary dialogue.
And just like the subtleties of what Kaluuya brings to the table, there's so much about the film that proves that less can truly be more. Michael Abels' score, for instance, never dominates the proceedings, instead looming throughout like a specter haunting the narrative. Scenes are milked for their genuine tension, Peele understanding the value in keeping an audience uneasy and unnerved over the long term instead of wearing them down with one cheap scare after another. And as I mentioned at the outset of this review when discussing my desire for the film to settle over in my mind before writing about it, one aspect of the film that captures why I wanted to wait is Peele's meticulous crafting of set-ups and payoffs, almost to the point that many little things that seem throwaway - like an early conversation about Jesse Owens and Rose's grandfather or a bizarre desire on behalf of Rose's brother to put Chris in a headlock during their first dinner together - click in to place on reinspection so subtly that they're bound to go over many people's heads.
And beyond Peele's comedic sensibilities informing the personality of the film, so, too, does his own racial identity. It's easy to take the concept of the film at face value - a white community potentially brainwashing any and all black outsiders who wander into its midst - but there's more at play here than just that. Get Out isn't a condemnation of white people, as some narrow-minded people will undoubtedly take it as; it is a dissection of, essentially, an extreme form of liberalism, wherein a broad, self-proclaimed "accepting" view of a culture - in this case, "African-American culture" - and all the stereotypes therein are put up on a pedestal and fetishized. At one point in the film, a character says that "Black is in," and in that single comment the community that Chris has found himself in is immediately contextualized, where blind ignorance about a culture is favored over actual consideration of self-identity, a fact that instantly makes Chris' situation all the more frightening, as those involved care more about what he can provide "for being black" than what he can do, feel, and think as a human being all his own.
Ultimately, though, Peele never goes overboard in making his themes and explorations too heavy-handed. Again, this is a horror film first and foremost, and what Peele so masterfully accomplishes with it is that anyone can take from it what they want. If you're simply looking for a solid movie with thrills, chills, and laughs, Get Out works. If you're looking for something deeper, something where an artist has something to say - and something worth listening to - through a lens of horror and comedy, Get Out delivers. Peele, his cast, and everyone else involved knock it out of the park, and even though it wades into a bit of conventional territory by film's end, I couldn't be happier with it when it's got this much personality.
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