A few weeks ago, I watched a film, Death Race 2050. It wasn't a bad movie, but a 30-second scene devoted to a cute kitten had me enthralled. Whereas that was a bright spot in a hyper-violent satire that felt too palpable, a small set detail in Get Out added one more random reason for me to appreciate it. Even if the set detail (a poster for a Clint 4/ Matter show at Meeting Street's own Local 616) had not made it into the film, Get Out still worked.
The plot of the film revolves around Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young photographer whose white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), takes him home to meet her parents. Her prosperous parents are, like Rose, well-meaning white liberals who will have no qualms with Rose's choice of a boyfriend. The interactions between her mother (Catherine Keener) and father (Bradley Whitford) begin awkwardly ("I would've voted for Obama a third time") and take a nosedive into wince-inducing wickedness when Rose's brother (Caleb Landry Jones) marvels over Chris' "genetic makeup." Throughout it all, Chris maintains a forced half-laugh to get through the discomfort. It's not fun to experience it with him. From the film's intro, the allusions to slavery, police brutality, and racial subjugation are plentiful, but once we meet her parents' friends, things become blatant and unnerving. Unlike the film's trailer, I don't want to reveal any more. To reveal more would deprive the viewer of the surprises I experienced while watching Jordan Peele's proud horror film.
Much like a two-hour-long Twilight Zone episode, Get Out had me guessing what left turn the film was going to take. Was it going to be a psychotic Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? Was it going to take a demonic turn a la Rosemary's Baby? Was it going to be the racial equivalent of The Stepford Wives? It was all these films and more.
The performances all around are near perfect. Williams' Rose is a convincing committed girlfriend, and Whitford's performance is equally smugly paternal and parasitic. But it was two performances in particular that stuck out the most for me.
From Being John Malkovich to The 40-Year-Old Virgin, I've always liked Catherine Keener. With Get Out, I hated her. I mean that in the kindest, most complimentary way possible. One cold, cruel scene involving repressed memories and a spoon scraping in a teacup gives us Keener at her most fearful. We aren't seeing her engage in physical violence but something much worse — the reduction of a human being to emotional rubble.
The human reduced to emotional rubble, Kaluuya, is a presence to say the least. Kaluuya — seen in last year's outstanding Sicario — smiles confidently like a young Keith David to deflect confrontation in one moment. Another moment his eyes evince paralyzing doubt and fear. I'm looking forward to seeing more of his work.
I'm not proud of it but, Get Out turned me into that one obnoxious horror filmgoer. Sitting in the theater with a couple friends watching this movie, I muttered to myself during the wince-inducing scenes and yelled at the screen when a character made a profoundly heartfelt but dumbass decision.
Though director Jordan Peele is known as one half of the sketch comedy duo Key and Peele, he — with an assist by the usually reliable Blumhouse Productions — went for serious horror with moments of bleak humor. One would expect things to be the other way around, but his film debut is a film that loves horror and all the possibilities of the genre. You get a couple jump scares and a couple gnarly moments of bloodletting, but it excels most when it turns a housekeeper's smile and tears into disquieting menace.
While hopefully not as disturbing in appearance, I smiled a lot during Get Out. A lot. Racism has been utilized tangentially in horror films such as Samuel Fuller's White Dog and George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, but I don't remember ever seeing a horror film that blatantly made race relations and racism central to its plot. Usually the tension in horror is relegated to two characters gabbing unaware that a bomb rests under the table. Peele has utilized this Hitchcockian plot device, but Peele has, more impressively, integrated racial anxiety and awkwardness to amp up the suspense.
At its best, a horror film can illuminate, entertain, and give the viewer something to mull over. At its worst, a horror film can insult, bore, and make the viewer feel robbed. This is horror at its best.