Written and directed by Jordan Peele of Key & Peele and MADtv, Get Out (2017) is the story of a young interracial couple, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), meeting Rose’s parents for the first time. By all appearances, Mr. and Mrs. Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) have no idea Chris is black. They seem to be friendly and progressive, if not awkward, but all is not what it seems.
This is Peele’s first film, and it has gotten nearly universally positive reviews, which I’ll admit, perplexed me at first. When I saw the preview, I thought it was a joke, like the horror movie spoof “Ghost Tits.” It looked like something from MADtv or The Chappelle Show, which makes sense since Jordan Peele is mostly known for sketch comedy. Critics said Get Out was “the smartest horror movie in ages,” “fresh and sharp,” and “masterfully and subtly crafted.” I had to see if it lived up to the hype.
Critics love to exaggerate positives and negatives, and there’s definitely some of that going on with these reviews, but Get Out is a solid, well crafted horror film. The preview doesn’t do it justice. The music, scares, characters, editing, foreshadowing, actors and actresses–all of it works.
The characters are genuinely creepy. We’ve all walked into situations where we had to meet people for the first time and they were a little odd or off putting. Get Out ratchets up that feeling and adds a racial element into the mix to make it more believable. The audience second guesses themselves along with the main character. Is there something wrong with these folks, or is it just culture shock?
Many critics have chosen to focus on racism or subtle racism as a theme in Get Out, but I think Peele is doing something more clever with this. It’s nearly impossible to make a film without reflecting the society in which it was made or the values of the filmmakers. In that sense, yes, Get Out speaks to African Americans who experience this kind of subtle racism. And it’s interesting because it’s not a perspective you usually see in horror films. But most moviegoers are white. Does the white audience identify with the protagonist and his struggles to be accepted by his girlfriend’s family? I’m guessing not.
In my review of A Cure for Wellness (2016), I argued that in a good mystery, the audience discovers clues alongside the protagonist. The thrill comes from an “ah-hah” moment, as the clues begin to fit together. The mystery in A Cure for Wellness didn’t work because it was too obvious what was going on. It needed a red herring to keep the audience on its toes.
In Get Out, racism is the red herring. Chris’ friend Rod Williams (LilRel Howery), a TSA agent, basically gets at the truth long before anyone else, but his theory is so outlandish, you’re predisposed to dismiss it out of hand. There’s a great scene when Rod takes his theory to the police, and they laugh him out of the room. This sends a signal to the audience not to take it seriously, even after Chris disappears.
The movie preview and opening scenes had me so fixated on race, I was sure the family had some secret racist past. Right up to the big reveal, I was convinced Chris would find a KKK hood, or old photos of Mr. and Mrs. Armitage at a Klan rally. I won’t give anything away, but the ending comes as a complete surprise, and I think that’s what delights audiences so much. The Sixth Sense (1999) is the last time I remember a horror movie beguiling audiences so well.
Peele himself said, “What I’m going for is more the human demon that is inherent in the way we interact… Humanity is the monster in my films.” So maybe it is about more than race, although it’s hard to find a horror film where humans aren’t monsters in some way. Whatever his motive, Peele produced a fresh take on an otherwise warmed-over genre. I went into the movie with a skeptical eye, and came out a fan.