Get Out full movie review - A surprisingly subtle and effective horror film for our times
Producer Jason Blum is the new Roger Corman: he's making a fortune producing smart low budget genre films that make a ton of money at the box office. Since his costs are low, he can afford to take chances on riskier edgy fare that studios wouldn't touch, and on relatively unproven talent.
There's no better example of this than Get Out, a truly surprising film by first time writer-director Jordan Peele. Better known as one half of comedy due Key & Peele, Jordan Peele isn't a name you would normally associate with horror/suspense films, which makes his effort all the more impressive. Get Out feels like the work of a very experienced craftsman who has seen a lot of classic horror films and truly wants to pay homage to them without slavishly copying or ripping them off.
If you've seen the trailer, you know the basic "Meet the Parents/Stepford Wives"-mashup storyline: rich white girl Rose (Alison Williams) brings black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) back home to meet her parents Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradford Whitford and Catherine Keener) for the first time. Although mom & dad (who were not told beforehand that Chris is black) seem friendly enough, things immediately look weird: the house is very isolated, the basement is off limits due to a 'black mold problem', and the only other black people are a maid and a caretaker whose robotic behavior doesn't seem to be noticed by anyone except Chris. It's clear something's off but is it just racial awkwardness or something more sinister? This being a horror film (with some comedy elements of very black comedy), the audience knows Chris' suspicions are likely correct, and the hints and strange events keep piling up (Dean is a brain surgeon and Missy is a psychiatrist whose expertise is hypnosis) but we don't find out exactly what's going until very late in the proceedings, and this guessing game (and its ultimate answer) are part of the film's power.
I mentioned "The Stepford Wives" earlier, but the film actually has more in common with Rosemary's Baby (not coincidentally, another Ira Levin adaptation): without going into spoiler territory, Chris's situation and his relationship with Rose's parents is clearly inspired by Rosemary's predicament and relationship with her new neighbors Roman and Minnie Castavet, who also appear to be caring and doting but turn out to have a very sinister agenda. Those who are familiar with Roman Polanski's masterpiece will notice how entire scenes in Get Out (particularly a party with a lot of oddball guests, almost all of whom are white and older than Chris) pay direct homage to the earlier film.
But whereas Rosemary's sense of alienation came from being a first time expectant mother (in itself a disconcerting experience) transplanted into a new environment (the Dakota building and its assortment of strange tenants), Chris' predicament has the added layer of racial conflict bubbling under the surface. He's the only black person in the entire place, save for the domestic help, and although everyone is nice and courteous, he (and the audience) can't help but feel that it's all the phony facade behind which something very unsettling is going on. Chris' suspicions are fueled by his occasional phone conversation with his friend Rod (LilRel Howery), a TSA agent who is house-sitting for Chris back in New York. Rod know something's up and keeps telling Chris to 'get out' of there because he's afraid the Armitages will turn him into a sex slave, but Chris is too polite (or intimidated by prospect of outright social/racial conflict) to take his advice.
Get Out's narrative is straightforward enough once you figure out where the story is going, but getting there is where the fun is. The cast is uniformly fantastic: like many actors turned directors, Jordan Peele gets great, nuanced performances by everyone, especially lead Daniel Kaluuya (in a star-making turn).
The racial aspects of the story are what makes Get Out so effective: without them, this would have been yet another installment in a long series of films where a seemingly nice family or close-knit suburban community turns out to harbor unpleasantness under the surface.. But the race conflict isn't an exploitative gimmick: Chris's race is an integral part of the story
In this day and age, it's safe to say a film featuring a black lead being victimized by a group of white folks could have been very incendiary, but the fact that Jordan Peele is black adds an extra layer of credibility to the film and helps deflects accusations of being exploitative. Rather than being brash and confrontational, the film is surprisingly apolitical and doesn't hit the viewer on the head with blunt racial allegories and heavy-handed caricatures.
Rose's parents are not the stereotypical racist old white folks: they are affluent, liberal intellectuals who (in her dad's own words) would have voted for Obama a third time if they could have. For most of the film, their courtesy and hospitality towards Chris feel unforced and genuine, if a bit stilted, which makes what happens in the third act a lot more believable and creepy.
The twist, if you can call it that, is effective because it's completely logical within the context of the film. The villains of the story have a very good (twisted) reason for their behavior, and are very civilized and professional about it. Not unlike the 'good Germans' during Hitler's regime, they think they're acting in pursuit of a greater good (listen to Dean's story at the beginning when he tells Chris of his admiration for Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where his own father also competed)
Get Out is the best kind of socially-conscious horror film: like Dawn of the Dead's anti-consumerism and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre pro-vegetarian stance, you don't need to notice the underlying message to enjoy the film, but it's there in plain sight, and surprisingly effective.