Get Out (2017): Racial Alienation as Satirical Horror
With director Jordan Peele’s new movie Us (2019) now out in cinemas, I figured now would be a good time to take a look back at the film that made him more than “just half of YouTube’s Key and Peele”. As his directorial debut, Get Out (2017) promised a thrilling horror story with an African-American protagonist where the threat is psychological as well as physical. Now two years down the line, does Get Out still live up to the hype or does it become too infatuated with its own message?
African-American photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is driving upstate with white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet and stay with her family for the first time. He asks if her family know that their only daughter is dating a black guy. When she reveals that she hasn’t, Chris slowly becomes paranoid and begins questioning the family’s overly-friendly while often uncomfortable exterior.
“My Dad would have voted for Obama a third time if he could’ve. Like, the love is so real.”
Get Out is a film wholly invested in its message on race and its trailer heavily emphasises its horror elements. As a side note, although well edited, I recommend that you don’t watch the trailer; it spoils most of the horror visuals and reveals a huge plot point I won’t go into here. Back to its message, I’m not embarrassed to say that it took a second viewing until I felt comfortable I’d understood exactly what Jordan Peele was trying to communicate – and a further few to discover more.
On a base level, Get Out’s story reminded me of a task we had in a high school assembly. An English teacher asked us to think of famous black people and he listed them on the board. Being around 2014-ish, this included Will.i.am, Barack Obama, Morgan Freeman and so on. He then asked us to think about how many of them were in entertainment: film, music, stand-up and sports. He pointed out that most famous black people are viewed as acts or shows for people to watch and separate themselves from. If I remember correctly, I think Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and Barack Obama were the only answers left.
So what does that have to do with a horror film about creepy white people? Well, kind of everything. Chris is viewed as a captive audience to the host of Rose’s exaggeratedly large family and the only other black people are employed by them. Every time we think “finally, a nice family member” they come out with something unintentionally racist or they talk about Chris like he’s inherently different. Quotes like “Oh you like golf? I love Tiger Woods!” are used to show that the family are trying to connect but just end up isolating him in the process.
While its message is well delivered, one of the strongest aspects I got out of the film was its ability to weave comedy into an admittedly harrowing narrative. With films like last year’s Halloween and The Predator, it feels like every movie has to have comedy written into the script and, pretty often, this kills any anticipation you want in an action/thriller. Thankfully, Peele’s experience in sketch comedy transfers well to his screenwriting capabilities and the dialogue is able to alleviate tension when the viewer needs it. Even the traditional comic relief character holds up despite being a trope that I am unfairly brutal against – considering they can be found in almost every film nowadays. The trailer (which, again, is one to avoid) barely hints at how funny Get Out can be and it’s one of the elements that make the film such a great re-watch.
“You are Chris when you watch this movie. The power of the story encourages empathy. It allows us to see through other people’s lives.” – Jordan Peele
Without giving anything away, this film has a stellar final act and the pace certainly picks up as time goes on. Even when I thought I’d paid attention to every little detail, something new comes along that has me wondering “How did I not see that?”. On a technical level, this film is gorgeous and its set design rewards attentive viewers and re-watches. For the sake of this article I have now seen Get Out four times since its release and each time I’ve found props and costume tweaks that act as red herrings. While the script is tight, and the film can’t work without its call-to-attention narrative, Get Out has some beautiful shots and the camerawork enables us to get a great view of the detail and symbolism.
All in all, Get Out just hyped me up for Peele’s next film even more than I already was. From its great performances all-round (shout out to Allison Williams for making the act of eating cereal one of the most memorable scenes of the year) to its thought-provoking and culturally observant screenplay, Get Out has proven Peele’s skill as a director and bodes well for Us (2019). With an opening weekend gross already tripling its budget of $20 million, Us is certainly bringing in viewers who are begging for another slice of Peele’s refreshing confrontation of social issues with the inherent flair of a talented filmmaker.
I am giving Get Out a 9/10.