Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry-Jones, Lil Rel Howery
Plot: Chris (Kaluuya) goes to his girlfriend’s parents for the first time, hoping his skin colour won’t result a hostile reception.
Most horror films are based on real fears. Take Jaws for example. It takes the irrational fear of the unknown under the water, even in safe public places like the beach, and creates a setting where that irrational fear is very substantial and justified. The best horrors can be traced back to a very personal and human fear (spiders, clowns, hockey masks). Director Jordan Peele decides it is about time to take the fear of racism out for a spin. On paper, it sounds like an odd choice. Is the fear of racism enough to justify a pulse-pounding horror? And also, it could argued that grandiose films like Loving and A United Kingdom, tackling racism with grand tales of anguish and love, have the racism dissection genre pinned down. Is there any room for a simple-minded horror that just aims to please? Well, as Get Out proves with a truly thrilling 103 minute run-time, there certain is. While period pieces like Loving show the audience how racist we were, Get Out discusses how racist we are. And it’s clever handling of the subject means that while the theme of racism is always present, it is never heavy-handed. The deeper debate goes hand-in-hand with a battle for survival, making Get Out an entertaining piece of cinema.
Perhaps just as interesting as the theme of racism is the director, Jordan Peele. Peele is far more commonly known for his sketch show talents, alongside Keegan-Michael Key. His latest feature film entry was Keanu, a film where two black men have to take on a gang to rescue a kitten. This marks a totally dizzying genre shift for the film-maker. With the exception of one comical best friend character, that perhaps marks the film’s one sour note, there is hardly a trace of comedy in Get Out. One would expect some novice mistakes to be understandably made during the conception of this film. Scares that don’t quite work, characters that aren’t as complex as you might think. However, the truth is that the reason a comedian ventures so vividly outside of their comfort zone and into more dramatic waters is usually because there is a subject they care about passionately. Peele is first and foremost a story-teller which he demonstrates with a precise script here. His knowledge of the different levels of racism is most impressive here. As Chris meets the different members of his girlfriend’s family, the racism is present, but it isn’t always antagonistic. At the very least, not in their eyes. Rose’s brother instantly feels the need to compete with Chris, subconsciously threatened by a black male in the household. Further family members, all elderly white people, passively objectify Chris, seeing him as a statistic, rather than a person. The cleverer hints of racism come from the characters who do not mean to be racist, or even mean. Rose’s father tries to bond with Chris, but only ever touches on subjects he feels Chris would relate to being black (Obama, black culture, the prejudice of black people over the course of history), when really Chris would rather talk about more normal subjects. Even Rose is arguably borderline racist, her anger over the slightest hint of prejudice against her boyfriend, perhaps objectifying in itself. This point is made all the more powerful when compared to Kaluuya’s world-weary performance. He does not want to start a debate over racism. He is simply tired of walking into a room and someone bringing it up. The quieter, more powerful moments depict how used to Chris is of the racism he faces in day to day life, an early scene between him and a police officer sadly all too real. In terms of horror, Peele also demonstrates how well racism actually lends itself towards fear. He expertly gets across the prickling feeling Chris gets whenever he walks into a room and cannot get a read on someone’s true motives. What thoughts lurk behind those smiles? Who is threatened by him and who is willing to act on that irrational fear? Chris constantly has his guard up and as the film progresses, that state of mind becomes more and more exhausting. Of course, Peele can handle some good old-fashioned scares aptly too, one scene where Chris sneaks out for a cigarette and is confronted by a figure running straight for him, a powerfully disturbing jolt of fear. The story itself too is intricately woven, narrative beats littered throughout the story so finely that it is only in the third act do you realise how clever Peele’s script is. The racism angle only adds welcome intelligence to a thrilling horror thriller that is bound to entertain.
Final Verdict: Peele makes the transition from comedy to horror with surprising ease, weaving a thought-provoking tale that both teaches and thrills.