Meeting your girlfriend’s family is scary. If you’re black and her family is white, I mean really white, that’s even scarier. Throw in the sneaking suspicion they might kill you and you’ve got yourself a horror movie. Social anxiety melts into straight-up fear in Get Out, the directorial debut from Jordan Peele, formerly of Key & Peele. In addition to directing, Peele served as writer and co-producer, so credit or blame for the finished product largely goes to him. Peele thoughtfully uses race and class as a means of telling a story rather than a reason for doing so. His success in crafting a scary story that happens to be a lot of fun, while weaving in larger issues, means Peele should collect much more credit than blame.
Get Out opens with a nightmarish scenario for photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), who is not only meeting his girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) family for the first time, but staying for a weekend at their estate. Ugh. Added to his understandable discomfort, the family doesn’t know he’s black. After Chris (Kaluuya) and Rose (Williams) arrive, peculiar behavior from the estate staff, who are all black, suggests all might not be what it seems. Interactions swing between awkward and congenial, imbuing scenes with a reality that amplifies the inevitable swing toward terror.
The first act sets up a story that could easily play out more like a mystery, but Get Out earns its placement in the horror genre. Still, Peele delivers gore in measured doses, rather than cramming his film with mindless, sensationalized violence. As someone not particularly averse to intense film violence, or at least used to it, I found Peele’s ability to instill fear without being overly vicious a welcome surprise. Also welcome was the judicious use of jump scares. These cheap jolts to the audience are effective, sure, but too many feels like cheap, paint-by-numbers horror.
At first glance, it might seem surprising that an artist best known for comedy would deftly craft a horror film, especially in his directorial debut. But horror doesn’t work if the tension is endlessly ratcheted upward. Peele wisely offers moments of levity, particularly through the protagonist’s friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery). A stand-up comic and actor, Howery provides necessary comic relief, but lighter moments are balanced against a backdrop of ever-increasing danger and fear. Get Out never strays into genre blending with comedy as so many lesser films often do.
Now that we live on planet smartphone, every horror movie has to include some contrivance to explain why dangerous situations can’t be defused with a quick phone call or text message. Judging these movies on how well, or poorly as is usually the case, they deal with phones has become kind of hobby for me. I appreciated the approach here because it simultaneously felt real, making the movie scarier, and didn’t strain credulity to the point of distraction. Broadly speaking, clever misdirection and foreshadowing throughout pays off as the plot resolves, even when elements of that resolution could have been more subtly executed.
That Get Out uses race and class to tell a horror story doesn’t mean Peele isn’t also making a statement on those topics. It just happens to be a horror story through which he opted to explore them. It wouldn’t take a great stretch of imagination to envision this plot as a Key & Peele sketch. Such a sketch would obviously skew more comedic, but the essential idea underpinning this movie would remain the same. I’ll resist saying more about this idea to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that genre fans, including sci-fi and fantasy, have long known that stories told on the fringe of reality make it easier to confront uncomfortable truths at the heart of human experience.
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|Release Date:||February 24 2017|
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