Written & Directed by Jordan Peele
Not knowing what to expect is a core principle to successful horror movies, but Get Out is different because I didn’t know what to expect on multiple levels. While the narrative is full of those types of moments, the film’s existence is entirely an unknown. Jordan Peele, the film’s screenwriter and director, is new to the scene. You may know the name, from the Comedy Central hit show Key & Peele, where he does funny things with fellow funny man Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele is a respected comedian. Not exactly the type of name you would expect to head up a horror project, but that is what makes Get Out special and unexpected. Peele is making his debut as director, having only co-written the Key & Peele vehicle Keanu from 2016 as a writer. Peele brings a certain freshness to the genre, a unique voice which certainly intrigues me, wondering what other genre efforts he could possible master other than comedy. Only the future can tell.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is a successful photographer who is dating a white woman named Rose (Allison Williams). When Rose decides she is ready to take Chris, who is black, home to meet her parents, the two pack up and head out to the remote Armitage estate. They meet Dean (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon, and Missy (Catherine Keener), a psychiatrist, along with Rose’s off-kilter brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). After strange encounters with the groundskeeper (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper (Betty Gabriel), and with some of the Armitage’s friends at an annual social gathering, Chris becomes quite uncomfortable in the clearly latent racist atmosphere, despite being assured that Dean would have voted for Obama a third time if he could, or that Tiger Woods was a great golfer. But Chris’ discomfort is only the beginning of something even more shocking.
It would be only so easy to turn this review into a recap of the direct social commentary that is so prevalent within this film, and I am sure many other reviewers and scholars will write such articles with much greater understanding, research, knowledge, wit and prose. I don’t want to avoid it entirely, the racial commentary on display here is uncomfortable, just as Jordan Peele intends, but it’s also quite accurate. As a white male, I’m in no position to comment on the African-American experience, as the film puts it. But the kind of comments made here by some of the white characters in order to recuse themselves of being a racist are laughable. They’re also seen and heard all too often, making their presence all the more cutting and effective. Horror movie or not, Peele has crafted a film which is a very pointed and very successful critique of race relations in America today.
But this is also a horror movie, and a very effective one at that. There are jump scares, there is great use of negative space to create tension. There is a structure here where Peele the writer/director flexes his ability to create suspense, to create thrills, to create stakes. I don’t know that anything in this film is revolutionary in any way, I’ve seen most of it before, but its marriage to the racial commentary is pitch perfect, making it a tense watch throughout, even during some of the otherwise menial scenes. But I think the greatest compliment I can give the film is how satisfying the ending ends up being. To feel that fulfilled goes to show how, over the course of the film, how invested in the character of Chris, flawed as he himself may be, and his existence Jordan Peele has managed to make me feel. I haven’t felt that sort of elation and satisfaction at the conclusion of a film in a while.
There are cringeworthy moments throughout, but they are by design. The awkward interactions between Chris and the white characters, or even the moments where it becomes easy to wonder why the hell Chris is doing what he’s doing all work towards the larger message being communicated by Jordan Peele. These are interactions we may all have in our heads, but fail to live them out load. For that reason, the film suspends disbelief, but it fits with the overall tone of the film, which is one which, by no surprise, is also very funny for this very same reason. It takes chances, it is very on the nose, and it manages to do just about everything very well. Peele’s directorial debut shows tremendous promise for his future career as a director. Now the question is will he pursue such a career. Regardless, Get Out exists. It’s a great movie. That will not change, even if Peele goes back to his comedy sketch origins for the rest of his career.