GET OUT (2017) is director Jordan Peele’s brilliant horror riff on the idea that in the post-Obama era, racism is alive and well. Birtherism, Charlottesville, mass incarceration and police shootings have all testified to that truth, as do the daily experiences of millions of African Americans.
Peele’s film shows us that racism may evolve, may even seem to retreat underground. But really it is just trying on new hats, ready to rear its ugly, all-American head in new and unthinkably corrosive and cruel ways.
In a set-up that sounds like the beginning of a romantic comedy but isn’t, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is a successful urbanite, an African American photographer who’s going to spend the weekend with the family of his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams) in the deep wooded suburbs.
On first encounter, Rose’s hypnotherapist mom, Missy (Catherine Keener) and her neurosurgeon dad, Dean (Bradley Whitford), seem like well-meaning, awkwardly earnest white liberals who try to say the right thing but don’t always succeed.
Dean, in fact, likes to say that he would have voted for Obama for a third term if he’d been allowed. If anything, the family seems less bothered by Chris’ race than by the fact that he can’t seem to give up smoking.
Things get weirder. Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) simmers with testosterone-fueled resentment toward Chris, drunkenly demanding to tussle with him. The family’s two servants, both black, played by Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel, freak Chris out, giving off inexplicably weird and inappropriate vibes.
Strangest of all, Missy hypnotizes Chris, exploiting his unresolved grief over the death of his mother when he was a child. She does this ostensibly to help him stop smoking. But is it really necessary to send him temporarily into a nightmarish mental limbo, a place she refers as “the sunken place?”(That’s a phrase that would have make a good alternate title for the film.)
A coterie of white guests who arrive that weekend seem fascinated by Chris’s talents and physique, and make bizarre remarks about black people, speculating as to whether they are culturally on the upswing.
Among that group, Chris spies a young black man with an oddly hesitant manner paired up with an older white woman. Later, Chris will realize he knows, or knew, the young man under a different name.
All the while, Rose comforts Chris, trying to persuade him that her family and their increasingly disconcerting friends are well-meaning.
A nightmare, worthy of the most terrifying Twilight Zone episodes, lurks beneath the surface of the weekend’s get-together, and is about to reveal itself.
As with a number of films I’ve written about this month, it’s very hard to talk about GET OUT without spoiling its surprises, something I don’t want to do.
Let’s just say there’s an evil plan in the works. Chris’s TSA employee buddy, Rod (Lil Rel Howery), listens to Chris’s reports about the weekend via cell phone, and cautions him that the family wants to turn black people into sex slaves. He’s not right, but the truth is equally disturbing.
GET OUT is a film that, on second viewing, with the story’s secrets fully revealed, provides a totally different experience.
Consider this quote from Dean, sparked by Chris and Rose’s collision with a deer during their road trip out to the house:
“You know what I say? I say one down, a couple hundred thousand to go. I don’t mean to get on my high horse, but I’m telling you, I do not like the deer. I’m sick of it; they’re taking over. They’re like rats. They’re destroying the ecosystem. I see a dead deer on the side of the road and I think, ‘That’s a start.'”
On second viewing, this dialogue takes on a deeply malevolent significance.
For a first-time director, Peele demonstrates astonishing surety. An opening credits sequence showing ominously scored shots of trees sets a nerve-jangling mood that never lets up, save in the comic relief scenes provided by Howery.
GET OUT culminates in a series of shockingly violent scenes. You’ll just have to find out if Chris emerges from the weekend with his wits, and everything else, intact.
It’s a pleasure to round up my 31 days of classic horror films with GET OUT, a film that shows us that on old genre can still provide a place for bold new voices and ideas that speak to the troubling undercurrents of the world we all live in.
THANKS FOR READING!