Summary: A young black man makes his way to the ‘burbs to meet his white girlfriend’s family.
If Get Out isn’t nominated for at least two Oscars this year, something needs to be done. (Let’s not get mad about the Golden Globes because… they’re the Golden Globes.) Genre crossing, check. Originality, check. Creativity, check. Dark humor, check. Distinct auteur style, check. Horror elements, check. Social commentary on the definition of privilege, race, seemingly progressive liberals, multiple checks. With an abundance of chuckles and legitimate “eep!” moments, I would say Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is one of the best movies I’ve seen in the past 5 years.
Get Out is expertly built as a horror premise of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? and Meet the Parents, with a young black man instead of Ben Stiller. En route to meeting Rose’s parents (Alison Williams), Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is hesitant for obvious reasons- “Do your parents know I’m black?”- with the correct assumption Rose’s parents will go out of their way to make him feel more comfortable which will only make him feel more unaccepted (yes, this is racist and it happens all the time- I mean, it’s the fact people feel the need to point out, “Just act normal.” Just, what?). After a slew of what we are calling “microaggressions” nowadays (seriously people, it’s racism) and with expert tear duct control, Chris soon discovers not all is well in white suburbia, with prejudices and bias manifested in its people. The horror doesn’t necessarily come in the form of a man with a chainsaw or a scary clown, but tangible racism. This is cleverly crafted as harmless assumptions at first, then wisely turns to fetishism, and carefully snowballs into blatant, Django Unchained, Leo-breaking-glasses type speeches.
I won’t lie- I chuckled a bit when I saw the genre and synopsis for the movie. Honestly, I react to going to some suburban/rural areas as one might going to Somalia- “You want me to do what now?” I also laughed through much of the first third of the movie, when Chris is trying to navigate the muddied waters with Rose’s parents, not because it was funny but because it IS a horror scenario! Peele draws straight correlation between feeling uncomfortable in a simple social setting to real fears. It’s genius! I’ve been there. I’ve lived it. I once had a college boyfriend’s* mother tell me, “We’re going to get Chinese takeout for dinner. What would you recommend?” My answer was the fish but with the head still attached. That’s like asking an Italian American what kind of toppings they would get on a pizza! (The same woman also informed me that, “Our cousin might have some questions for you- he loves Asia.” That’s cool. I too have questions about Asia.) This shit is real, “post-racial” America sucks, and we’ve all been there, as victims or perpetrators.
Peele’s writing is outstanding and the script’s pacing is just fantastic. He gives easily digestible access to unintended racism by initially drawing on familiar comments and behavior, with phrases such as “I would have voted for Obama a third term if I could!” or “You’re black, I play golf- how about that Tiger Woods, eh?” or “I have a black friend!” These phrases themselves are cringeworthy, facepalm-worthy, and horrifying outside of the movie- I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these from people in denial of their bias and blind to their own privilege, insistent that they “don’t see race” and counting off all the POC they have in their lives. (Nice! You filled your quota.) The comments should be easily identifiable by people who have either said these things or have been on the receiving end (I’ve done both). If anyone who watches this movie is not reflective of things they’ve said or at least acknowledge they’ve been a perpetrator of such things and how the effects of these phrases can escalate into larger events, they need to watch it again without being defensive because that attitude is the whole point of the movie. (Everyone’s a little bit racist. And if you still don’t get it, then ask someone!)
I can see how comments like these are typically considered benign and even safe to some extent, so I found the presentation of these as morbid, sad, or dangerous as really amusing and very clever. The microaggressions are paired with classic horror elements- a side-eye from the main character, a lull in the music, eerie pausing in speech- which works really, really well in understanding Chris’ initial suspicions. It shouldn’t be hard to understand Chris and his process of thinking- it’s explicitly stated in a conversational manner with Rose. The downward spiral and increasing aggression towards Chris throughout the movie is traceable and is never lost in the story. Peele goes to incredible lengths to set the audience in Chris’ shoes, using the music and framing to show his entire point of view. In immediately setting us up to identify with Chris- no matter who the audience member may be- Peele leaves us with no room for sympathy towards other characters and their behavior. (Again, if you can’t understand Chris’ point of view or at least empathize with Chris with how well it’s presented in the film, it’s probably because defenses were up. That’s cool- watch it again with those lowered and with more compassion. No one is hating on you. Well, no one writing this particular article is hating on you.)
I don’t want to give too much away because the presentation of the subject matter as horror is fun in itself- I’ll just say the movie does touch upon slavery by the end and the journey of connecting the “progressive liberal” with this and racism’s roots are brilliantly done. Get Out never takes its audience’s intelligence for granted and is not only thoughtful, but masterful in its form of storytelling. Directorial debuts, especially in an unfamiliar genre, should not be this good. I’m going to have to see his next work or two to see if Peele can maintain my expectations before I can rightfully make comparisons, but he emulates the auteur style of greats such as Hitchcock and Welles- I’m definitely interested in seeing what’s next on his plate.
(*Disclaimer, that college dude is not my husband, thank Zeus. Husband is a different white guy who teared up at the Season 5 finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and after Get Out was over, turned to me and said, “So my parents, huh?” He’s the best.)