The things that terrify us are rarely the things that go bump-in-the-night. Instead it’s the less sinister, yet equally malignant, living among us that pose the greatest threat. Evil doesn’t wear a sign as a warning. They creeps in when we’re not looking, hiding in plain sight, waiting to take us at our most vulnerable. Coming in the form of friends, neighbors, or even loved-ones. Never knowing we’re in danger until it’s too late. This social terror has been building within our nation for some time, so it’s of little surprise a film would use it as the basis for its narrative. What is surprising is the mind it comes from: that of prolific comedic writer and actor Jordan Peele (Key & Peele/Keanu). His directorial debut, Get Out, collects the writhing frustration of social outrage and channels it into a daring psychological thriller that challenges and disarms its audience.
After dating for five months, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison WIlliams) decide it’s time for the most treacherous of life rituals – meeting the parents. With best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) watching his dog, Chris packs a bag, leaves New York City, and drives off to rural suburbia to meet Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener). Chris initially shrugs off his discomfort as the standard growing pains of meeting parents for the first time, but as odd occurrence after odd occurrence happens, he begins to suspect it’s something more.
Knowing the director and the plot does little to spoil the experience, which is good because Get Out should be experienced as blindly as possible. In support of this, my standard review format is restructured to prevent even modest spoilers. If you have doubts over Peele’s capability to tell a terrifying story, remember that he’s one of the minds behind the Make-A-Wish sketch from Key & Peele Season Four. It’s absolutely chilling. When you go to Get Out, and you should, make sure you go with some friends or are in a crowded theater. It is the rare film that requires audience members to see it in a group to get every juicy ounce out of this psychological thriller.
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Final Score: 4 out of 5.
Still with me? Alright, here we go.
Self-proclaimed cinephile Jordan Peele demonstrates a clear knowledge and love of the films that inspire him. Impressively, at no time does Get Out feel like an out-and-out homage; rather, it stands on its own as it takes our own social anxieties and turns them into a revelatory cinematic experience. The terror that permeates Get Out feels real – even at its most unreal – because of the exceptionally grounded narrative. For example, the film begins with a lone man walking the streets of a suburban neighborhood at night. He’s lost because it’s dark and all the houses look the same. There’s a natural discomfort here because we’re shown an individual (a) outside of his element and (b) it’s at night when vision is limited and uncertainty surrounds. Without showing anything dangerous, Peele already implies unease, which is amplified when a mysterious car approaches from the opposite direction, comes into frame, and stops. Though not something supernatural – as in the 1984 classic A Nightmare on Elm Street – this scene sets up the idea that even the most visually idyllic neighborhoods harbor something nefarious underneath. Later on, Peele channels the 1975’s The Stepford Wives – a film about a community transforming itself from within – as Chris meets members of his girlfriend’s family and friends. They move in a certain way, they speak in a certain way, and it’s undeniably creepy. Chris, as an African American male, may be unfamiliar with how this largely Caucasian group engages with non-whites. Are they communicating in their tribe’s way, are they unpracticed in speaking outside of their tribe, are they racist, or something else? Chris is able to manage his own expectations because his life experience tells him Caucasians may mean well but don’t know how to engage him or connect with his experience. That doesn’t mean that watching a group of five turn in unison isn’t largely unnerving. Then, to ramp things up, Peele goes all in on the creep factor, utilizing aspects of the 1978 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers to brilliant affect to disrupt Chris’ mental stability. Most horror films focus on tearing down individuals through malicious means, which is why this homage is by far the most impressively used by as Peele. Rather than rupturing society, Body Snatchers is about appropriation, a concept that’s both socially relevant within the African American community and terrifying all on its own. Appropriation is about taking aspects of one group into another to make their own. Not in terms of an assimilation of one culture into another, but as a means of removal. In many ways, appropriation is a stronger, though passive form, of cultural removal. With it, a culture can cease to exist. Herein lies the true terror of Get Out.
These homages won’t work without strong characters and performances at play. Kaluuya as Chris is intelligent and capable. Rather than embody the stereotypical horror “Final Girl” who leaps without looking, Chris quickly becomes keenly aware that something strange is going on around him. He doesn’t snoop or investigate so much as he engages in calculated conversations with Rose’s family and friends, plus he remains in communication with his friend Ron, throughout. Rose is neither ambivalent nor overly defensive regarding Chris. Williams portrays her as aware of her family’s eccentricities and in tune with Chris’ concerns. There’s an expectation that Rose would try to shut down Chris’ seeming insecurities, but – because the grounding in realism is strong – she attempts to understand his discomfort and support him, without putting him down. In this way, Get Out frequently feels more like a social drama then a psychological thriller, which makes the storytelling all the more disarming. Similarly, the Armitage family – Dean and Missy – are portrayed expertly by Whitford and Keener. These are two grandmasters of acting and their use of subtly in every scene is what makes a re-watch necessary as their lines and delivery are entirely duplicitous.
There’s so much going on under the skin of Get Out that as soon as you finish it, you’ll want – nay – need to watch it again. It’s not just the homages to horror films of old or the revelatory approach to horror, but the fact that Peele constructs a story grounded in existing social fears. While there’s laughter, none of the narrative is played for laughs. Instead, there’s an overarching gloom that spreads in a strangely delightful way throughout the course of the film. Frankly, Peele’s psychological thriller could play as a solid film even without the deep dive into the perverse. But don’t take my word for it. Stop what you’re doing and get out.