REVIEW: Get Out [2017]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½


Rating: R | Runtime: 103 minutes | Release Date: February 24th, 2017 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): Jordan Peele
Writer(s): Jordan Peele

“Magic isn’t real”

If you ever watched “Key & Peele” you’d know the line between comedy and horror is very fine. Their sketches would often devolve into a horrific situation that you’d have to cry about if you weren’t already laughing. I think of “Aerobics Meltdown” where there’s this hilarious conceit of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele going over-the-top, 1980s-era Richard Simmons—it’s absurd, campy, and frivolous. But then they inject a sense of fear and helplessness through a stagehand explaining how one of their wives was in a terrible accident, but “Don’t stop dancing!” It starts to spiral out of control, getting darker and darker until a menacing reveal of homicidal psychopathy and yet we’re still laughing. That laughter turns from gleeful to nervous discomfort, but it never goes away.

So it’s not surprising Peele would tackle the horror genre once the show dissolved in order for their individual stars to shine elsewhere. Key has been saturating Hollywood for years while Peele stayed more or less in the background, most likely molding his directorial debut Get Out‘s script’s biting racial satire in a way that ensured its success as both thriller and comedy. Like those sketches, one can’t exist independent of the other. We laugh at the fact that we don’t yet live in a post-racial world because the surrealism of that truth is easier to swallow than the stark reality wherein civil rights are still threatened. We laugh at notions of suburban white neighborhoods projecting plantation-like façades because acknowledging that they’re not actually façades is absolutely terrifying.

Peele wastes no time flipping stereotypes to get to the root of the insidious dynamic between white and black America, his opening prologue depicting a black man (Lakeith Stanfield) roaming Stepford-esque territory with the type of unease and anxiety many white people have walking urban cityscapes. It’s maybe a five-minute scene yet its jam-packed with substance from the idea of suburban street names being made to get you lost to the absolute silence of gentrified evenings with everyone safely huddled around their TVs or asleep by ten. If a strange car rolls up, you panic. You try to keep cool and get moving even if the direction is wrong. You don’t assume it’s someone asking for directions or providing them. You assume you’re about to die.

It’s funny because it’s true. We all freeze at abnormality, assuming the worst thanks to a 24-hour news cycle positing horrendous acts as the norm. Death and crime sells, so we’re inundated with terror attacks, potential terror attacks, and “it’s a stretch but maybe” terror attacks daily until they seep into public consciousness to reinforce the concept of “other.” If the media only shows black people as murderers, rapists, and drug dealers, that is what people believe. So when a cop kills a black kid, they assume he was a “punk” or “thug.” Communities that don’t interact with anyone different than them start feeling vulnerable. They create a “me versus them” agenda, oblivious to the reality that they cultivated a “them versus me” atmosphere for minorities long ago.

No one should then be shocked when Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) appears nervous about visiting the family of his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). He’s been black for twenty-six years. He knows what that means to a WASP-y neighborhood and wonders whether she’s told her parents what color he is to prepare them. She can shrug it off and say they aren’t racist, but it’s been a while since she’s lived with them. While Rose experienced city life and diversity, they remained stuck within a world walled off from reality. Just because her father Dean (Bradley Whitford) “would vote for Obama a third term if he could” doesn’t mean he’s ready to accept a black man in the family. Just because he says something, doesn’t make it true.

So Peele delivers everything this scenario entails, steeped in authenticity despite being just left of real life. He plays up Rose’s white guilt as savior for blacks. He augments Chris’ resignation to the fact that he will always put white people off-balance in their affable yet subversively racist way to overcompensate and prove “they’re on the level.” And he allows a character in Chris’ best friend Rod (LilRel Howery) to be a conspiracy theorist forever close to the truth even when being intentionally over-the-top. Rod is a voice of blunt reason, a man who isn’t afraid to tell his buddy that you don’t simply walk into suburbia alone and expect to escape. He’s a reminder that trust is a two-way street and a luxury very few can afford.

This Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner vibe injects a socio-political fear intrinsic to the situation even though we are fifty years removed from that movie’s release. This isn’t Peele’s end game, though, merely the scenario in which he sets his stage. Get Out isn’t about black versus white conflict through violence either. It’s not that aforementioned “us versus them” mentality where only one can survive. Peele goes further to touch upon racism’s more nuanced corners like the notion black people don’t live up to their potential. Rather than paint the Armitages’ community as one that’s fighting an “America First” war of cleansing, they seek to recruit. You can be black as long as you are one of us—as long as you’re willing to conform to our ideals.

It’s a direction that could naturally unfold through dramatic rhetoric, both sides stating cases before eventually going separate ways when the reality that one seeks freedom and the other psychological castration is unavoidable. But where’s the fun in that? Wouldn’t it be more exhilarating if this idea of “evolution” manifested in a sinister way? You can guess what this entails thanks to the always-smiling, robotic machinations of the Armitage’s black staff (Marcus Henderson as groundskeeper Walter and Betty Gabriel as maid Georgina) and the mysterious cloud of hypnotism looming above Rose’s mother Missy (Catherine Keener), but there’s a good chance you won’t quite guess the depths Peele is willing to take you. Everything you see possesses layers of interpretation only revealed once the film’s secrets are laid bare.

And that’s why you shouldn’t read much about the film before watching for risk of spoilers. If anyone talks about what happens after the Armitages’ summer party begins with affluent white neighbors showing up for bingo hijinks, you need to shut them down because Peele’s success arrives through his meticulous dispersal of information and pacing. You must feel Chris’ superficial dread when engaging with Dean’s “I speak jive” nonsense, his legitimate dread where Missy’s tea cup scrape of a spoon has the potential to put him in a trance, and his fight or flight mentality when weighing Rose’s love against her brother Jeremy’s (Caleb Landry Jones) hostility. The racial satire at play must manifest itself through relatable channels before it can shift into the genre nightmare to come.

Don’t think that means the tried and true horror tropes you expect won’t arrive until the second half, though. They are present from the start even if they aren’t necessarily in the context of supernatural panic. Peele instead shows how those tropes are present in our everyday life, just without the jarringly bombastic score to make us communally jump in fright. Reality is a horror film with uncertainty around every corner and a wealth of enemies made so simply for refusing to accept their sterilized life experiences aren’t universal. We’re shown how appearances are deceiving, how insanity sounds insane no matter what color you are or what color the people you’re telling are, and how the struggle for survival will more than likely not be won via words.

Kaluuya is a star performing anxiety and paranoia to perfection, his desire to diminish weirdness as a product of nervous tension relatable in everyone’s hope for mankind to be inherently good. He and Williams are genuine from the start—lovebirds lost in each other as a result of an existence allowing them to be humans rather than that “interracial couple” to gawk at. The juxtaposition between them and those at the party is not one to be dismissed lightly, especially when Peele boldly changes pace from chatty curiosity to a record scratch of ominous silence in what might be the scariest scene I’ve experienced in years (you’ll know when it happens). Something isn’t right and their treating Chris as a “prize” won’t prove as cut-and-dry as assumptions presume.

There’s much more to talk about from the visual and aural hell-scape of “The Sunken Place” to the nefarious genocidal practice sold as an infomercial of peace and tranquility coined “Behold the Coagula” to the detective skills of the TSA. I’ll let those teases whet your appetite. Just know that you’re in good hands with Peele at the wheel: his eye for detail, mind for precision commentary, and expertise with the mechanics of comedy and horror as constructs of timing and the unknown uncanny for someone who’s never directed before. He’ll have you laughing in terror at stereotypes and bigotry from all aisles (black and white alike) to begin understanding what life is like for people that others have strived to control physically, psychologically, and emotionally for millennia.


photography:
[1] Rose (ALLISON WILLIAMS) connects with boyfriend Chris (DANIEL KALUUYA) in Universal Pictures’ “Get Out,” a speculative thriller from Blumhouse (producers of “The Visit,” “Insidious” series and “The Gift”) and the mind of Jordan Peele. When a young African-American man visits his white girlfriend’s family estate, he becomes ensnared in a more sinister real reason for the invitation. Photo Credit: Justin Lubin Copyright: © 2017 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[2] Drs. Dean (BRADLEY WHITFORD) and Missy Armitage (CATHERINE KEENER) in Universal Pictures’ “Get Out,” a speculative thriller from Blumhouse (producers of “The Visit,” “Insidious” series and “The Gift”) and the mind of Jordan Peele. When a young African-American man visits his white girlfriend’s family estate, he becomes ensnared in a more sinister real reason for the invitation. Photo Credit: Justin Lubin Copyright: © 2017 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[3] BETTY GABRIEL as Georgina in Universal Pictures’ “Get Out,” a speculative thriller from Blumhouse (producers of “The Visit,” “Insidious” series and “The Gift”) and the mind of Jordan Peele. When a young African-American man visits his white girlfriend’s family estate, he becomes ensnared in a more sinister real reason for the invitation. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures Copyright: © 2017 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[4] MILTON “LIL REL” HOWERY as Rod Williams in Universal Pictures’ “Get Out,” a speculative thriller from Blumhouse (producers of “The Visit,” “Insidious” series and “The Gift”) and the mind of Jordan Peele. When a young African-American man visits his white girlfriend’s family estate, he becomes ensnared in a more sinister real reason for the invitation. Photo Credit: Justin Lubin Copyright: © 2017 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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