If you look back on the history of horror cinema, you’ll find that many make use of timely social issues in order to convey poignant commentary on their respective subjects. Visionary horror director George Romero continually did it in his Dead series, with Night of the Living Dead tackling race relations during the height of the Civil Rights movement, while Dawn of the Dead took shots at consumerism and its power to literally turn society into zombies. The Purge series of films delve into classism, Rosemary’s Baby is related to feminist ideals, They Live looks at the power of the media, and plenty of other examples handle countless other social issues.
The latest film to do this is Get Out, which comes courtesy of comedian-turned-writer/director Jordan Peele. Get Out is Peele’s first foray into the horror genre, as well as his first time being in the director’s chair, but this is never apparent as you watch it. The film is so successful in so many aspects that it ends up not only being one of the most impressive debuts of the last decade, but also perhaps the most socially charged mainstream horror film in that timespan as well.
Get Out’s central character is Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a 20-something black man who’s in an interracial relationship with his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), who plans to take him along for a visit at her family’s house for a weekend getaway. Chris is noticeably skeptical about the trip and coyly asks Rose if her parents are aware that he’s black, implying that he believes he may not feel welcomed by Rose’s family. “My dad would vote for Obama for a third term if he could,” Rose responds, Peele obviously making fun of the people who say things like, “I have a black friend,” as if that can automatically save them if they have racist opinions or support racist ideas. The punchline of the joke lands a little later on when Rose’s father recites this line to Chris verbatim.
And that’s one of the best attributes of Get Out: it’s as funny as it is scary. While the film is foremost a psychological horror-thriller and displays its fair share of terrifying scenes and deals with serious themes, Peele regularly intersects the built-up tension with well-timed jokes and oft-funny reactions from the characters. Get Out can scare you, for sure, but you should find yourself crying from laughter just as much as you’ll be sweating in terror. It’s one of the most impressive horror-comedies I’ve seen in years. Peele never leans the film in either genre for too long, retaining a perfect balance of horror and comedy throughout while also feeling totally realistic so that it never comes off like he’s trying too hard just to land a joke.
More so, Get Out is a masterclass example of how to effectively build suspense and then successfully deliver on it. From the first interaction Chris has with Rose’s parents, Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, respectively), we get the sense that there’s something…off about them. Dean repeatedly attempts to fit in with Chris in increasingly hilarious ways, but it always comes off as slightly hostile. Opposite Dean is his psychologist wife Missy, who insists that Chris let her perform her practice on him, to which Chris politely declines, still visibly doubtful of their integrity. Rose’s brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), too, is almost immediately malicious toward Chris, but not so much that Chris feels really threatened by him.
What Chris is most concerned about, though, results from the two black servants under the Armitage’s dominion, Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson). They move with purpose, but only in order to complete the Armitage’s chores; they don’t speak much, but when they do, it’s robotic and awkward; and they ultimately come off as creepy in certain moments. But like the family, who are just as off-putting to Chris, neither parties take it far enough to truly convince Chris that he’s been right all along about his suspicions.
You’ll likely have your own ideas as to what’s going on as you’re watching it, but where the film ends up leading is legitimately surprising, and the payoff is well worth the wait. As much as you will think you might have the through-line figured out from the opening moments, the film doesn’t actually end up simply being about a family of racists who intend to hurt a young black man due to the color of his skin. Get Out honestly presents so much more than that — something that is not only smarter for plot purposes, but an idea that might be even scarier than plain old racism.
Get Out is already mightily accomplished due to its engaging and tense plot, but it’s made so much greater by Peele’s precise direction and satirical script, as well as the impressive acting demonstrated by the entire cast. Daniel Kaluuya is especially awesome in his starring role as Chris — this being his first starring role, but somehow I doubt it will be his last. The rest of the cast is similarly great, including the fun performance from Lil Rel Howery, who plays my favorite supporting character in the movie, Rod.
Get Out is a film you need to see. If you can, see it in a packed theater; it’s designed for it. It’s a film that will have the entire audience shrieking, laughing, and even clapping throughout, effectively adding to the appeal of it all. There’s a lot to love about this one. Get out, and go see it.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor