When I saw Get Out, it was with a few friends who didn’t really know what they were in for. One thought it was a crime/mystery movie a la The Girl on the Train. Another thought it was going to be about slavery. Another thought it was about dancing. All were pleasantly surprised.
The plot is simple: An interracial couple goes to visit the lady’s parents, who have not been informed that their daughter’s new beau is African-American. But Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner this ain’t. Once there, the beau notices things are amiss: There’re hardly any black people (even for what is hinted to be upstate New York), and they all behave… differently. And then things get really weird.
Get Out is clever, scary, and funny. But unlike most films that run the relay race of passing the baton from clever to scary to funny from scene to scene, amazingly, Get Out is often all three of these things at the same time.
The film works on multiple levels so frequently it’s remarkable that this is writer/director Jordan Peele’s first feature-length film. One half of the duo that was the creative engine behind the celebrated, recently concluded sketch show Key & Peele, their facility for parodying so many genres and styles on their show has proven to be a fertile training ground for straight genre work. It’s an extremely confident, assured debut, filled with details, well-placed clues and hints that reward future viewings, with tight tension and surprising bits of humor from unexpected sources.
Folding the hot-button topic of racism into a horror film isn’t unprecedented. But rarely has it felt so relevant as it does here, and not in a ham-fisted, melodramatic fashion. Peele recognizes that discerning audiences don’t need a lecture. He allows it to become a looming threat hovering over every move of our protagonist Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya.
He experiences some microaggressions, some casual racism, but we in the audience get to make our own observations, draw our own conclusions based on our own suspicions, based on what we know about racism, whether directly or from secondhand sources.
A nice chunk of the cleverness of Get Out is actually Peele using those expectations against us. He uses them to make us scare ourselves, and to subvert what we are certain is about to happen, all the way to the very end. This results in scenes that deal out surprises, thrills, and laughs (there’s that trifecta again). In this way we are confronted with our own prejudices and suppositions.
Even the comedy works on multiple levels. Characters in scenes won’t find something funny but it can be for the audience. Peele almost dares the audience to laugh at some points, and it’s almost always worth it to call him on those dares. Even with the scares, Peele goes further. It’s not just the potential loss of life at stake, but the sense of self, of identity, which is a far more maddening thought.
Peele’s style is fairly classic thriller. Hitchcockian, with lovely set-ups that pay off down the line if you’ve been paying attention, details like an Olympian in the family, an occupational feature that becomes a life-saving tool, a fighting style that requires one to think several steps ahead. Observing the items that are in a room. Peele really knows how to turn the screws, ratcheting up tension until primed for release. Michael Abels’ score helps in these regards (this is also Abels’ debut feature as composer).
With a deft series of strokes, Peele and company have served up an excellent, visceral horror film, one with a lot on its mind, that can continue to be unpacked long after the credits roll.
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