|Directed by:||Jordan Peele|
|Written by:||Jordan Peele|
|Cast:||Keith Stanfield, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford|
It’s strange to think of a comedy star directing a horror movie but Jordan Peele of Key & Peele does just that with his directorial debut, Get Out, and yet in a strange way Peele’s background works in his favour to create one of the most layered and unnerving films of recent years with a healthy dose of satire that couldn’t have come at a better time.
The film opens with interracial couple Chris Washington and Rose Armitage getting ready to visit Rose’s parents house in the suburbs, being black Chris is worried about Rose’s parents will react to him but Rose tells him not to worry. Arriving at the house Chris notices some oddities about The Armitages, father Dean keep using slang terms and praising Obama, Rose’s brother Jeremy is way too eager to get Chris into a wrestling match, but most troublesome of all is mother Missy, a psychiatrist who comes on way too strong about hypnotising Chris into giving up smoking.
Rose is horrified by her families’ actions but Chris recognises their unease and potential casual racism and ignores it, but as the day goes on he starts noticing stranger and stranger things, particularly with the two black servants living on the property. In the morning a small social gathering with Dean’s friends’ takes place which leaves Chris even more unnerved by everyone treating him like a show-horse. And when he tries to find company in the rare fellow black faces he realises that the black people aren’t acting weird.
They’re acting white.
Think Stepford Wives meets Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner by way of Seven, this a very clever film and while I won’t go into details about where it goes, once you recognise the parallels to a very ugly part of history you’ll start to see the pieces fitting together. There’s a lot of layers to this that go beyond just a case of a crazy white people, it’s more than that in a lot of ways and how Peele is able to build it up and throw you off is kind of incredible to think about.
Likewise the performances end up having more to them than what you initially see which makes it quite difficult to go into why they work as well as they do. It’s a majority white cast but their all off, whether they’re just not comfortable around black people or trying too hard is left up in the air but it’s clear none of them know how best to handle the situation even when they’re isn’t a situation to be handled. The Armitage family themselves are just as strange, Dean is clearly putting in way too much effort to appear racially sensitive even when he’s using black servants and his cultural appropriation feels forced and Jeremy comes off like a huge douche but his eagerness to get Chris in a fight hides a more base desire.
The standouts of the family were Missy and Rose, mother and daughter, Missy’s role as a psychiatrist plays a big part in where the film ends up but there’s a vibe to her, more than nearly everyone else because while other people act odd around Chris because he’s black, Missy’s oddities don’t factor in a racial attitude which makes her all the more difficult to pin down. Rose greatness comes from being unsure about her role in the family dynamic, is she unwilling victim or fellow villain? There are moments where she’ll stand up for Chris against the casual racism of suburban life but others where she shares the same quirks as her parents, this is a brave role and one Williams manages to twist with each new reveal leaving you still wondering about her long after the film’s done.
The black cast members might have been fewer but their roles were all the more important with housekeeper Georgina and groundskeeper Walter both displaying some very intense behaviour in otherwise regular situations and houseguest Logan giving his best rich white dude impression, which speaking as a white dude was spot-on. There was also Chris’ best friend Rod who evolved into a secondary hero once he realised that Chris’ situation was too bizarre not to investigate, while he did come off as the comic relief – a well deserved title – Rod also became the voice of the audience, yelling out the truth and trying to piece everything together, he was a fun performance and added some levity to the situation.
Rounding out the cast was Chris played by Daniel Kaluuya of Sicario and Black Mirror, and Chris is an interesting one because initially he does come off as a very passive protagonist, he avoids conflict wherever possible, he puts on a brave face when confronted by casual racism and while he doesn’t accept it, he doesn’t make a big deal out of it. It’s relatable; anyone can see Chris’ unease with the situation around him and while most won’t have been in the same boat as being treated for being different the feeling is at least recognisable. His passiveness comes from still wanting to make a good impression but like Chris the audience starts getting more aggressive once both they and him realise that there’s something more going on, we follow his journey at the same time he does so we’re always in his shoes.
This is important because the majority of people who see this film are going to be white, this is a western film and western culture is predominantly white, so what Peele does is that he doesn’t so much force us but there are parts of the film that push us towards identifying with the main character who is black. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for white people to see things through the eyes of a black character but what Peele cleverly does is that he manages to approach race is a very refreshing way. Chris does exhibit some stereotypically black behaviour but ones that make sense, he calls other black men ‘brother’, he uses a fist-bump instead of a handshake and in one clever moment him and Rod recognise Logan as somebody’s cousin in a nod to the stereotype that all black people know each other. The point is that Peele writes Chris as a modern black man, he doesn’t come off as a stereotype but at the same time he isn’t so far removed from his culture as to make him essential white, a trap some writers have fallen into over the years.
Peele also applies this to his white characters and their understated racism, it’s very subtle because these are all fairly liberal people, the sorts that would’ve voted for Obama a third time if they could’ve, not the KKK members or skinheads that you would associate with racism but that’s part of Peele’s intention. The way the Armitage’s and their friends treat Chris as if he’s special because he’s black is just as damning as someone treating Chris as lesser because he’s black, he’s just a normal guy trying to live a normal life so being treated differently, either good or bad, is going to offend him regardless of intention. The film does go into why this is but it’s a clever critique of liberal ignorance, thinking that the only way to not be violently racist is to be overly friendly and apologetic, not realising how arrogant they’re being.
Giving his background in comedy it’s unsurprising that Peele’s satire hits well but for his first feature he also succeeds a base level, the few moments of comedy (mostly from Rob) are welcome and tie in with the racial themes with Rob believing the white folk will turn Chris into a sex slave but it’s actually the horror aspects where Peele shows a true talent. That unnerving feeling carries throughout, growing with every out of the ordinary action, you’re left on edge trying to figure out what exactly is going on and if you do get an answer it just leaves you with more questions, an early scene between Chris and Missy sets up a very creepy aspect that has a great pay-off leading into a shocking final act where the reveal is a uniquely horrifying twist that fits perfectly in with the racial attitudes of the movie but with a terrifying implication.
Peele has gone on record as saying he has four ‘social thrillers in mind to direct and if Get Out is a sign of things to come then I’m all for what he has to offer. This might be the world’s finest racial horror, a chilling piece of social satire that critiques what it means to be a black man in a liberal white world. There’s a lot that I couldn’t go into so as not to spoil anything but the way Peele crafts all the different layers shows a lot of promise for his own career and the hope for smarter horror movies in the future.
8 & 3/5s/ 10