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Get Out

As two biracial men, Key and Peele have a unique perspective on matters of race. They have both proven uncommonly adept at walking in the shoes of both Anglo-Saxon Americans and African Americans, leaping from one to the other to comment on each other. There’s a lot of fertile material there to play in, though Keanu left the impression that they were either unable or uninterested in exploring the cultural differences in any intelligent way. It was a disappointment, as the two are primarily known for being comedians.

But a horror film? There’s an interesting twist. After all, horror and comedy are both alike in that they aim to surprise an audience with perfectly-timed payoffs to compelling and well-crafted setups. Moreover, given how much of racism is based in fear, using that as the basis for a horror film could be something very clever in the hands of someone with Jordan Peele’s reputation and background.

So here we have Get Out, a racially-charged horror film from director/writer/producer Peele. (Jason Blum is also a producer because it’s apparently some kind of law that no horror movie can be made anymore unless he’s in the credits.) I honestly didn’t know what to make of this one until I saw the mythical 100 percent Tomatometer. A horror film from a debut director, put in the Oscar weekend dumping ground, with a dull-as-dogshit title, and it got a perfect score? There’s seriously not a single critic who didn’t like it? Could it possibly be that good?

Well… kinda, yeah.

I’m going to try and stick with what’s in the trailers, because heaven forbid I spoil any more than necessary. Our protagonist is Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), who’s going to meet the parents of his girlfriend (Rose, played by Allison Williams). Upon arrival, we quickly learn that Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, respectively) are a neurologist and a psychiatrist. So on top of being lame white people, they have a way of wheedling their way into his mind. Not a good combination.

Then along comes Rose’s younger brother, played by Caleb Landry Jones. And because nobody does “creepy sleazy white guy” quite like Jones, this may be your first clue that something’s rotten here. The other big red flag comes from Walter and Georgina (Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel), the hired help, who act a little too unnaturally cheery. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Stephen Root, who gets a brief yet pivotal role as a friend of the Armitage family.

Last but not least is Lil Rey Howery, playing the comic relief as Rod. He’s the best friend who gets roped into dogsitting while Chris and Rose are away. He’s also a TSA agent, which comes in handy. This guy really is the unsung hero of the picture, in large part because you’d better believe Peele knows how to use comic relief.

Far more importantly, Peele has the uncanny ability to present an atmosphere that’s just a little too perfect. You know, when everything’s just a little too well-kept and everyone’s just a little too polite, smiling just a little too wide. It makes for some surprisingly good horror, as we’re always wondering what’s being hidden, what the catch is, where the threat is, etc. (see: The Stepford Wives, admittedly an obvious comparison).

Moreover, it makes for some surprisingly good racial commentary, as characters either make blatant little out-of-touch remarks to either show how they’re totally not racist (“I would’ve voted for Obama for a third term!”), to hide their own racism (talking about Chris’ “genetic makeup”) or to be condescending assholes (“Is it true that it makes a difference in bed?”). It’s fascinating to watch our two main characters’ reactions to all of this, as Chris has lived with this stuff all his life and he’s long since used to the routine. Compare that to Rose, who’s a complete stranger to all the passive-aggressive treatment. It’s a clever, whip-smart, and incisive spin on the classic horror trope of one character who sees the potential threat and another character who’s totally oblivious.

The film is highly clever on a technical level as well. The sound design is remarkably effective, especially in how it draws attention to the hypnosis triggers. The visuals are quite inspired as well, particularly in how handheld camera is subtly used right when everything is really going to shit. That would be just after a beautifully delivered twist that brings some outstanding moments of tension and changes the game entirely. In all honesty, the buildup to the big reveal was so amazing that the reveal itself was almost kind of a disappointment. Until I thought about it a little deeper.

Based on first impressions (not to mention the trailer), you’d assume that this is about white people asserting their superiority over black people. And while that is true to an extent, we eventually learn that the racial dominance is merely an afterthought, or possibly a bonus. If anything, the logic seems to be that the masterminds are disproving their own racist bent by welcoming people into this sick little self-serving paradigm they’ve created.

But the far bigger conflict here is one of old age versus youth. All the old white masterminds are dying, so they cling to life and vanity through their new young “friends”. But on another level, these characters represent old ways of thinking (such as racism) that are slowly dying out. So these people and ideas are made to live long past their sell-by dates, and in the most sickening way possible.

Yes, the film gets pretty gut-wrenching in places, with gory scenes that are few and brief but effective. We do get a few kills, and they are quite satisfying to watch. However, being a film centered around hypnosis, most of the horror is psychological in nature. Though the aforementioned creepy-sweet atmosphere helps a great deal. That said, while the kills themselves are effective, the climax suffers for some lackluster fight scenes in between the kills. Peele is evidently not so good with action as he is with comedy and horror.

That little nitpick aside, let’s move on to the cast. Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams both turn in star-making performances here, running the gamut from adorable to terrified to badass. Individually, they each run the whole gamut. Together, their chemistry is smoldering. Either way, they positively light up the screen through every moment of the runtime.

Kudos must also be given to Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, both of whom have more than enough talent to sell the characters’ gradual development from “eerily happy” to “stone cold monsters.” Likewise, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, and Lakeith Stanfield are all sublimely creepy, each with the uncanny ability to elicit skin-crawling reactions with nothing but the slightest twitch.

Praise must also be given to Lil Rey Howery, who pulls off a remarkable balancing act here. I’ve seen the “loud black best friend comic relief” character before, but this has to be the first time I’ve ever seen that character presented in a way that didn’t become painfully annoying. Though to be fair, that could be due to the fact that Peele is deft enough to keep Rod in the picture just barely long enough. It’s extraordinary how the film always cuts away mere seconds before Rod outstays his welcome, though there are times when the balance falters. To wit, there’s a scene in which Rod goes to the police with his suspicions, with overlong results not nearly up to par with the character’s other scenes.

Still, the weak link of the cast is Caleb Landry Jones. He plays to his strengths and delivers a performance that’s overtly creepy while the rest of the film (one or two jump scares aside) is creepy in its restraint. Square peg, round hole. I’ll grant that it made for a disarming change of pace, but it’s hard to imagine the story couldn’t have done just as well without him.

Overall, I have precisely zero problem giving Get Out a recommendation. It’s clever, it’s smart, it’s funny, it’s comical, and it’s deeply unsettling horror in a creepy sort of way you don’t see much of anymore. Even if the action isn’t much, it’s such a small portion of the film that barely any damage is done. Plus, the cast is so extraordinary that even the weakest links still come out looking wonderful. Seriously, Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams are going places and I can’t wait to see more from the both of them.

This is definitely one to watch.

2 Comments

  1. Comment by Jack:

    “They have both proven uncommonly adept at walking in the shoes of both Anglo-Saxon Americans and African Americans, leaping from one to the other to comment on each other. There’s a lot of fertile material there to play in, though Keanu left the impression that they were either unable or uninterested in exploring the cultural differences in any intelligent way.”
    ……Are you suggesting that “Key & Peele” wasn’t any good?

  2. Comment by Curiosity Inc.:

    I’m suggesting that Keanu wasn’t very good. I can’t comment on “Key and Peele” as I haven’t seen it.

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