[Possible spoilers below]
Dealing with modern fears and contemporary issues, Get Out appears to be tailor-made for a post-Trump, post-Brexit audience. In reality, the film would have been gestating long before either of the political hot potatoes even loomed on the horizon, let alone before either became the overriding realities of 2017 US and UK discourse.
The film taps into fears that predate both of these, and actually harks back to earlier films like Rock Hudson’s Seconds and the grotesque excesses of 1989’s Society. Updated to place race at the core of its smart script, Jordan Peele’s take on “Meet the Parents” speaks directly to a young audience and riffs on universal themes and ideas. The opening sequence hints at the real-life horror rooted in the plot, but it’s not until British star Daniel Kaluuya turns up on screen, with his impressively expressive face, that we get a sense of the racial jibes Peele will be taking on throughout his film.
Even the introduction is subversively portrayed, with a soul-infused rap song playing in the background as a room looms into sight, apparently filled with smoke. The audience is left, for a moment, to assume Kaluuya’s Chris Washington is “relaxing” in conventional movie set-up mode for a black character, but he is in fact merely stepping out of the shower. It’s a clever, wickedly played introduction and signals many of the irrepressible decisions the filmmaker is going to take over the course of the next 90 minutes.
Chris and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams) are about to leave their city apartment and head out to the country to meet her family for the first time. They joke, but with an air of seriousness, about her parents finding out that he is black and if this presents a problem for them. The supposed reassurance comes in the form of a statement that they would have “voted for Obama for a third time, if they could”.
Peele, best known for his comedy sketches on TV, and making his directorial debut here, rarely deviates from the tropes of American horror, but when he does he manages to deliver killer blows that leave a lasting impression.
The soundtrack by Michael Abels is, as described by the director himself, as featuring “distinctly black voices and black musical references”. The music fits perfectly and is jarring in all the right ways.
This all combines to give a scathing depiction of non-conventional white liberals. They are the true villains of the piece, and not the typical redneck Southerners or backwater inbred racists that often populate films in this genre. The shift to a strong black male in peril instead of a young white female is very deliberate and makes for a more believable narrative. Chris makes decisions that everyone, of any gender or race, would make when in danger, removing the usual groan-inducing moments where you wonder why the central character doesn’t just run rather than explore the dimly lit corridor they end up trapped in.
Fans of horror might find this tone less exhilarating than the films they are used to. The build up to the chilling revelations later in the film is slowly filtered through rather than delivered with bombast. We meet the family’s black groundskeeper and maid, who are very much part of the Armitage clan. There is something instantly peculiar about both of them, but its difficult to pinpoint. The acting by all parties is top-notch throughout, and Samuel L. Jackson’s recent complaints about Black British actors portraying African-Americans (targeted specifically at Daniel Kaluuya), coming across as misplaced. We challenge anyone to find a more emotive delivery than the ones employed by the young actor here.
If there are complaints to be had with Get Out, they would focus on the ending that dwells too long on an all-too easy escape and lazy revelation sequence, but these are minor quibbles in an otherwise fascinating exercise in contemporary thrills.
Get Out is released in the UK on 17 March and is out now in the US.