Get Out is a mercilessly entertaining vision of the horror of the black experience
By Max Romprey
The horror genre has a long and storied history of exploring themes of the human condition using metaphors of monsters, ghosts, creatures, killers, and the like. From the zombifying characteristics of consumerism in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, to the pitiable decay of a body ravaged by disease in David Cronenberg’s The Fly, to the more recent portrayal of death, grief, or sexual trauma (depending on your interpretation) as an indestructible and unceasing follower to be reckoned with in David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, horror allows filmmakers to create accessible and thrilling entertainment out of intimately relevant and profound material. Racism, however, like in most genres, remains a sort of third rail in horror that is frequently avoided, and unfortunately even codified in the cases of many horror films wherein black or minority characters are sidelined for two-dimensional comic relief or swift execution (who hasn’t heard the cliche about black guys always being the first to die in horror movies?). The aforementioned George Romero’s Night of The Living Dead is perhaps the last significant horror film that explored racism, way back in the heated days of American race-relations of 1968. Jordan Peele’s Get Out is arriving at a similarly relevant time in 2017, and it handily deserves to proudly carry the torch for horror as razor-sharp social critique.
Maybe you don’t care about any of that, and just want to see a fun horror movie. In that case, I wish to assure you that Get Out IS fun – probably the most fun you’ll have in a movie theater in more than a few years, and that it functions perfectly as a straight-forward horror-comedy, but that confrontation of racism, like for its hapless protagonist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, incredibly expressive and soulful), will not be avoided or go unnoticed by any viewer. Peele’s assured directorial debut challenges its audience and extends a hand of empathy to those watching who may have personally lived it.
Chris, a black man, has been dating Rose (Allison Williams), a white woman, for four months. Rose is taking Chris back home to meet her parents, who don’t yet know that Chris is black. It’s a premise already fraught with dramatic and comedic implications for anyone who might have experience with an interracial relationship, and not one untouched by the movies, but Peele, a comedian who probes both social mores and film convention for bracing effect, runs wild with the conceit as it slowly becomes clear that something is amiss with the black people in Rose’s neighborhood. As a solo writer-director, he proves himself here to have able command of the horror genre, but I’m left wondering if he’ll ever even need to go back to it. Without saying what it is outright, the strength of the central metaphor as exploration of racial myth, black servitude, and cultural appropriation is so much that devising another horror premise that would allow Peele to play to his strengths would be nothing short of a miracle. I’m of the mind that he could do anything from here, but on the strength of his writing in the scenes between Chris and Rose, I’d like to see him make a romantic drama.
While Kaluuya leads the film expertly with his earned discomfort and devastating emotional depth, he is only one piece of a film that seems to reveal a new ace hidden up its sleeve with every introduced cast member. Lakeith Stanfield in the opening moments takes what could be a standard horror movie setup-scene into a chillingly grounded realm, and Allison Williams as Rose in addition to her parents, played by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, offer a masterclass in playing disarmingly charming horror movie characters. Actors tasked with similar roles, wherein the possibility of evil intentions keeps the audience on their toes, should take note of how difficult a guessing game Williams, Keener, and Whitford make for the viewer with their performances. Caleb Landry Jones as Rose’s brother Jeremy doesn’t present the same sort of subtlety, but that can hardly be considered a loss for the film when the character is as intoxicatingly intense as Jones’ portrayal. He’s perfectly cast here as a heightened contrast to an array of more naturalistic performances, and never to the effect of disbelief or ridiculousness.
Praises for the cast would be incomplete without an acknowledgement of Lil Rel Howery’s performance as Chris’ best friend Rod, who makes an already hilarious movie absolutely sidesplitting. Rod is a multitude of things; loyal friend, overconfident TSA agent, comic relief, greek chorus, but most of all he’s a remarkably human character written and played with grace. His phone call interludes with Chris throughout the film are the story at its most grounded, and when Rod becomes the de facto protagonist of the third act, the movie kicks into overdrive with what are by far its best scenes. This should justifiably be a breakout performance for him.
Get Out is entertaining from beginning to end, and never pulls punches in its critique of casual racism. It’s viscerally personal, the result of firsthand experience from a singular and eloquent black voice. The fact that a first-time director could make such an assured genre exercise marked unmistakably with his sensibilities speaks to a duality between horror and comedy worth examining, and to Jordan Peele being one of our premiere creative minds. He is a talented comic-turned-filmmaker that will hopefully soon have as much money as possible tossed in his direction in order to make exactly the projects he’s interested in making, even if it’s outside his lane. Get Out is the work of an artist not to be boxed-in.