Directed by Jordan Peele (2017)
by Sandy DeVito
If there's one thing Tr*mp's election has reiterated to those of us who consider ourselves to be progressive - whilst reaping the benefits of white privilege - it's that racism and xenophobia are alive and well here, and rather than dissipating, have metamorphosed with the times into various guises. This is, of course, not news to people of color, who have been dealing with the same old narrow-minded hateful bigotry in America for over two centuries, ever since colonial white patriarchy kidnapped them from their homes and thrust them into slavery (or in the case of the Native Americans, stole their land and murdered them with impunity when they tried to defend it). White America may pretend segregation is over, but neighborhoods are still divided by income, those born into poor homes are likely to stay poor, and social class and racial bias are more extreme than ever, clamped in the maw of late capitalism. Perhaps the one upside (if indeed one can be gleaned from such a nightmarish scenario as the one we now find ourselves in) is the chance of the collective eyes of privilege finally opening to the deep-set plights of our broken society. Some of that is reflected, inevitably, in pop culture, and a wave of films that explore the ongoing, evolving racist underbelly of contemporary America have emerged as never before. These entries include Ava DuVernay's Selma and 13th, Barry Jenkins' staggering Moonlight, and the recent Hidden Figures. But horror was a realm that remained largely unexplored by black voices in film. Jordan Peele's Get Out marks a significant moment, a turning point in the landscape of contemporary American horror.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) have been dating for a few months, and the time has come to meet her parents. Chris is apprehensive, especially when he realizes Rose hasn't told them he's black (white privilege: believing everyone else shares the same biased perks and receives the same benefit of the doubt you do in any given situation), but warily goes along with it, wanting to be supportive. At first it seems like things are going fine - Rose's father Dean (Bradley Whitford, who plays the best douchebag pretty much ever, reprising a role he played similarly in favorite films of mine such as Cabin in the Woods and Kate & Leopold) insists to Chris he would have voted Obama in for a third term, he loves him so much for godssakes! - but then things start to get weird. At first it's little things - Rose's mother Missy (Catherine Keener), a psychiatrist, wants to hypnotize Chris to get him to stop smoking, and Rose's brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) tries to put him in a headlock after a seemingly innocent question about UFC fighting. Chris then realizes the Armitage family have two black hired hands - Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson). They behave very strangely around Chris, and he becomes deeply unnerved. He gets up in the middle of the night for some air, and deeply strange encounters with Georgina, Walter, and Missy leave him rattled. The next day, the Armitages host a gathering of "relatives" that is stranger still - and Chris starts to fear for his safety.
It's almost impossible to discuss the intricacies of the second half of this film without getting into serious spoiler territory, so I'll just say Jordan Peele's incredible knack for tongue-in-cheek scene composition and dialogue was the major highlight of this experience for me. This is a horror film, but even the most disturbing scenes have another layer of wry social commentary that goes far beyond jump-scare and gory cop-out. I wouldn't call this film scary so much as deeply, constantly creepy, like a turning around in a shadowed room, realizing there's a person behind you who you didn't hear come in. Shit is just not right, and the wrongness metastasizes as the narrative plunges down into dark fathoms below. There's a vague supernatural undercurrent here, but most of the horror has to do with how damn bizarre, nefarious and sly bigotry can be, especially when it's carefully disguised. There were so many tiny wink-wink moments that I haven't been able to stop thinking about since I saw this last night (the glass of milk and the bowl of Froot Loops, the Japanese man at the gathering - who I'm convinced was meant to be a joke about Asian people being the least threatening minority in the eyesof white people - the deer mounted on the wall, Rose repeatedly dismissing Chris' fears). It's also unexpectedly hilarious, especially thanks to Chris' friend Rod (LilRel Howery), a TSA agent who's determined, despite all obstacles, to find Chris after his phone goes dead. I was also thrilled to see Lakeith Stanfield in a small role - he'll be L in the upcoming adaptation of Death Note helmed by Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (known for You're Next, among others), and clearly he's an actor of major talent as witnessed in his relatively brief but extremely memorable scenes.
I do feel a certain plot point towards the end is somewhat flimsy - Chris asks someone a question, and his answer is more or less a shrug accompanied by a vague response about genetic makeup, which I felt could have been elaborated on more interestingly. I was also disgruntled that a certain reanimated deer skeleton featured in some of the trailers (2:24 here) never makes an appearance in the final cut - what was that all about? I wanna know what the fuck was going on with that deer skeleton. There better be something about it on the blu-ray.
This movie is undoubtedly a major gateway, not just for Peele himself (who has been primarily known for his sketch comedy series, Key & Peele, and the comedy Keanu from last year), but for other black filmmakers who are interested in creating horror narratives as well. This is not just an ingeniously crafted genre film, it's a hallmark moment in cinema, one that will be looked upon in many years as the beginning of a new kind of horror film.