What makes Jordan Peele’s Get Out such a curiosity is the strangeness that comes of its organic genre blending. The film feels like it began life as a comedy, evolved into a dark comedy, then evolved again into a horror thriller with a kitschy edge of comedy constantly echoing in. It feels cultivated rather than forced and gives the film its own unique poise of unease, creeping from set piece to set piece as if knows it is being watched and hates the attention. The titular words loom large in our brains as Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) goes in to the opulent manor house of the parents of his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). The racial difference of the lovers is writ large in the presence of black servants with vacant grins and the cringeworthy efforts of Rose’s father (Bradley Whitford) to prove his ‘woke’ status as a friend of all races. This is the comedian’s touch: set up, tension held and held and held, sustained by ever exaggerated nods, until the big final release and the riding of the subsequent wave.
Peele himself does come from the comedy background, noting that he was drawn to the horror genre because of the structural similarities in the creation of a scare and the creation of a joke. In Get Out, the horror and the joke share a duality because Chris’s situation is almost laughably kitsch, but unnervingly anchored to anxieties of racism and brutality that continue to rear their ugly heads, especially in America. As such, like Chris’s energetic friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), we are quickly guessing what the hell is up with these old and friendly racists, and what will be the grisly fate of our plucky hero. Peele, therefore, has to work extra hard to second-guess our guessings and the result is a gloriously over-the-top descent into absurdity, which eschews reality in exchange for a delicious indulgence of campy metaphor, as hilarious as it is deeply horrifying.
Peele has a clear strength for startling imagery, not least when capturing the faces of his cast. The frame seems to strain under the weight of the desperate expressions of the black characters, especially the unbearable grin of Georgina the housemaid (Betty Gabriel), and Kaluuya’s iconic expression of hypnotised terror. Get Out is also refreshingly brightly lit and doesn’t rely on too many jump scares to build tension. Instead, it opts for weirdness; the unhinged twitchiness of Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones), the racists playing out a silent auction with bingo cards, the terrifying abyss of ‘the sunken place’ where Chris is sent when under hypnosis. This is a mature approach to the genre, especially from a debut director, and a first-time viewing of the film is a treat of various visual treasures.
For all of its fun – which there is much of – Get Out has a couple of missteps. It could be argued, for example, that racism is shown to be an archaic problem that only exists among the weird old white families who operate secret bizarre experiments in a cultish enclave. There is a brief appearance of the archetypal racist cop at the beginning, but in all other respects racism is shown to be an issue contained rather than a problem endemic. This is perhaps an unfair assessment of a film which is using an absurd conceit to reflect upon the strategies of neoliberal multiculturalists who still retain racists beliefs. But taking the world of the film itself, it remains an issue, not least at the (spoiler alert – skip ahead!) very final moment where a particularly powerful statement could have been made. Instead, Peele opts for a happy ending, which he has noted was a clear artistic choice, but it results in an excellent film being robbed of a final statement in favour of a couple of fairly lame jokes and a wobble in plot logic.
Nevertheless, taken for what it is, Get Out is a hugely enjoyable film with a genuine heart and a fresh perspective. It will be forever immortalised as the great success story of film in 2017, even if it doesn’t claim the final accolade. Cinema gets its essential lifeblood from these word-of-mouth indie hits that dare to take risks and aim to shift sensibilities. It is testament to the vibrancy of young, new filmmakers that films like Get Out and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird are the must-see Oscar contenders, far above the efforts of such Award mainstays like Spielberg and Nolan. And now, it is time for us to indulge in the excitement of what these upstarts will produce next.
by David Hartley