Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, Catherine Keener
Director: Jordan Peele
Running Time: 104 mins
Synopsis: Chris (Kaluuya) and Rose (Williams) have reached the dating milestone of meeting the parents. Nervous over whether her parents will find his skin colour an issue are put to the wayside thanks to their accommodating ways. But some increasingly disturbing discoveries lead Chris to a truth that he never could have imagined.
Horror tends to fall down into one of two categories. We have the thrill-a-minute jump scares that mainstream horror tends to focus on. Not much under the hood except a desire to scare the bejesus out of you using every cinematic tool in the box. Or we have the more low-key social commentary horror, generally favoured by the independent crowd and recently on a bit of a hot streak thanks to It Follows, A Girl walks Home alone at Night etc. Films that rely less on jumps for their scares and more on atmosphere, tension and sly references to current social issues. Get Out, the assured directorial debut of Jordan Peele (yes of Key and Peele fame), is very much the latter and might just be one of the best examples of the genre in recent years.
Get Out is centred around that most nightmarish of scenarios; meeting the parents. A time for nerves, pressures and a helluva lot of awkwardness, but this time amplified by the fact that Chris is black and his girlfriend of 4 months is white. She assures him that her parents will be cool with it, but he is troubled by the fact that she hasn’t broached the subject with them before they arrive. The tension is exacerbated tenfold when their car is almost run off the road by a suicidal deer (what is it with films this year and running over deers). As Chris glimpses the animal dying it is a foreboding and tangible way of conveying his innate fear of what this weekend may bring. But more horrifying than that is the local cop who quizzes Chris as if he is some sort of suspect, immediately reminding us that institutionalised racism is a constant battle he faces.
Fortunately Rose’s parents, played by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford (delightfully and calmly malevolent) are accommodating and warm towards Chris, although his slightly warped questioning of Chris marks Rose’s dad out as a decidedly odd albeit harmless character. It is the housekeeper and groundsman that first unnerves Chris, both black and both almost trance like in their dedication to satisfying their master’s every whim. Jordan Peele slowly ramps up the tension here, utilising an off-kilter score and moody visuals to conjure the necessary sweats.
One particular night time sequence is hugely effective, notably for its simplicity at depicting a man running as something genuinely terrifying. But as mentioned previously Peele forgoes typical scares for character based dread, magnified to breaking point in a central family get together that is as awkward as it is plain freaky. Get Out’s pertinent social commentary rises to the forefront here. Rose’s family a sea of false try too hard liberalism, “I would’ve voted for Obama a third term” being one of many insightful nuggets into the way racism manifests itself from a place of jealously, anger and naivety. It is at this moment that the film steps up a gear and begins its inevitable decline into inescapable horror, of which I will say little more about. Suffice to say, thanks to Keener’s proclivity towards hypnotism, it is horror that takes you into unpredictable realms of surrealism. Scenes that Peele shoots with a subtlety and simplicity that haunts far more than any amount of CGI madness could’ve accomplished.
Thanks to Peele’s comedic background he breaks up all this heavy social malaise with some wickedly laugh out loud moments that are perfectly placed to avoid the tension becoming all encompassing. Centred primarily around Chris’s TSA guard friend Rod played by Lil Rel Howery with speed talking gusto. In an inspired move Rod is not just the comedic foil, but a key player in the films final act, with one crowd-pleasing entrance being a particular highlight. The rest of the cast all deliver first class performances as well. Alison Williams adds hidden layers to what could have been a one note role. Stephen Root appears as a seemingly benevolent member of the family but one who reveals a twisted inner demon as events take a sinister turn. It is British actor Daniel Kaluuya who rivets though. Handling the films extreme turns and emotional daggers with a vulnerability that makes him all too easy to root for. Although one late film act of nigh on superheroics is a tad nonsensical.
Jordan Peele should be immensely lauded for writing and directing a film of such power. He combines incisive social satire and provocative edge of your seat suspense with consummate ease, never forgetting that this is entertainment first and commentary second. This is a film that warrants repeat viewing, especially to make sense of some its more imaginative plot turns and will certainly gain in respect as time goes on. Let’s hope Peele continues to provoke and challenge, and based on the evidence here it could cut right to the core of not only America but humanity itself.
Verdict: Witty and wicked, Get Out never lets its astute social satire overwhelm its capacity to entertain. In these troubled times and distinct divides it is the tense ridden jolt we all need.