Get Out (2017, dir. Jordan Peele)
Andre is about to meet his girlfriend’s parents. This is made more awkward by the fact that they are wealthy privileged upstate people and he is a young black man. While the family seems to not make a big deal out of the racial differences and the father, in particular, wants to make sure he looks “woke,” Andre can’t help but feel something is off. There are two employees of the family: a housekeeper and a gardener, both black who behave in unusual ways. As the weekend progresses, it becomes evident Andre has stepped into the midst of a dark secret and may not leave intact.
I’ve written quite a bit about horror films on this blog, and I have a very particular taste for the elements of the genre that appeal to me. While Get Out doesn’t nail it as a horror film, in my opinion, it is still creepily effective and serves as a huge statement from a first-time feature film director. Jordan Peele has appeared on the directing scene fully formed, shaped by his years in comedy and writing, to produce a movie that resonates in our contemporary setting but also has a great understanding of film tropes.
On reflecting I realized Get Out is essentially a B-horror movie from the 1960s or 70s that has been freshened up with the element of racial elements and observations about how black people are fetishized in American culture while having their individuality discarded. Black people and their culture have become fashion statements for a disturbingly large percentage of the population. The stranger elements of the horror are kept under wraps until deep into the third act which is a brilliant decision because it keep us grounded up until the last moments. As the story progresses, Andre’s experience gets weirder and weirder in very controlled and plotted beats. There is a moment in the second act where we know things are going to get bad. This sequence was the moment where my wife said, “Oh, now I know why they are looking at Peele to direct the live action Akira film.”
The film is carried on the shoulders of Daniel Kaluuya who has had some supporting roles in American films, most notably Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario. Kaluuya is a British-born actor who appeared in one of the best Black Mirror episodes (“Fifteen Million Merits”) and was a writer-actor on the original production of Skins. At the age of 28, he’s one of those actors I’ve noticed in supporting roles and small lead roles that was brimming with talent. Get Out is proof that he is a fantastic lead and was able to carry this feature. I always think an actor’s ability to play nuance and subtlety is more important than big sweeping performances. Kaluuya plays the awkwardness and uneasiness right down the line but is able to seamlessly bring out those larger emotional moments. When the death of his mother becomes a subject of the conversation, he showcases some truly believably pain.
The supporting cast has three greats among them: Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, and Stephen Root. Each of them has such a strong sense of who they are playing, particularly Root whose character appears briefly, and they help build out this strange world Andre has stumbled into. Andre’s girlfriend is played by Alison Williams, an actress who I typically find annoying as hell in Girls, but is actually very effective in Get Out. Her brother is played by Caleb Landry Jones who ends up being the only distracting element in the film. On Andre’s side of the conflict is his friend Rod played by Lil Rel Howrey. Rod’s role in the movie is what feels the most reminiscent of Peele’s comedic work on Key & Peele. The banter between these two men will be very familiar if you have seen that show. The ending of the film also feels like a less humorous version of the way one of the sketches on that show would have wrapped up.
What I love Get Out the most for is that its target of satire is not a lazy one. The villains here are not backwoods Southern racists. These are people who believe they are enlightened/woke/progressive. By talking about how much they love black people and “would have voted for Obama for a third time” they believe they are accepting black people. Instead what happens is that they systematically pull individuality from the black characters in the film and essentially appropriate for their own whims of fashion. This is a much more interesting target than cliche racist hillbillies or neo-nazis. There’s no surprise in a neo-nazi being racist, but the villains here are more complicated, and thus there is a greater mystery and stronger payoff. My hope is that the success of Get Out would lead to two things: more writing/directing work for Jordan Peele and acknowledgment that less than conventional types of horror and science fiction have a big audience for them.