Relatively cheap and quick to shoot, horror is often the favoured genre of young directors. Luminaries like Sam Raimi and Steven Spielberg both famously cut their teeth on horror cinema. Few could have predicted, however, that writer-director Jordan Peele – one half of comedy duo Key and Peele – would have turned to the genre for his debut feature. More surprising still, Get Out is not only an early front runner for the best horror film of the year, but is also one of the most socially potent films of the post-Trump era.
We open with Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) preparing to visit his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the first time. It’s a rite of passage for any couple, heightened by the fact that Rose hasn’t told her parents that Chris is black. Rose insists that while her parents are embarrassing, they aren’t racist. Yet Chris is reluctant to take her reassurances at face value. Chris’ world-weariness bears out in an early confrontation with a prejudiced cop and, in the ultimate ‘told you so’ moment, Rose’s parents prove to be embarrassing and bigoted in equal measure.
Dropping their Obama-voting credo into stilted conversation while staffing their household exclusively with black servants, Dean and Missy Armitage (a perfectly cast Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) are the epitome of white liberal privilege – affluent, self-satisfied, and painfully lacking in self awareness. It’s not long before events turn from the awkward to the outright weird, with the aforementioned servants acting extremely strangely, one of whom Chris clocks for a friend of a friend that has recently gone missing. To say any more would spoil the film’s second half but make no mistake, Get Out – an exercise in challenging assumptions – is best seen cold.
Key to the film’s success is Chris’ friend Rod (LilRel Howery). In a lesser film, the latter’s wisecracking would come off as annoying, but with Peele’s finely tuned comic sensibilities, it provides much-needed levity from the mounting tension of the main plot. More importantly, he provides a lifeline to the marooned Chris with his self-conscious awareness of horror tropes, rendered far more meaningfully here than in fare like Cabin in the Woods. Get Out‘s cine-literacy will be particularly satisfying for horror aficionados, but Peele’s film truly excels in its portrayal of the lived experience of casual prejudice and racist violence within the framework of genre fiction.
It’s rare that a horror film deals with race in such a sophisticated and visceral way, though it is difficult to discuss the nuance of its racial discourse without stepping into spoiler territory. Suffice to say, Get Out confronts racism in the tradition of great genre fiction, with the film’s climactic revelation literally embodying the metaphor of its first half. Peele’s blistering debut is a timely and powerful satire of modern prejudice as much as it is a taut, gripping exercise in horror cinema.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell