Sharp-witted and clever, Get Out splendidly satirizes privileged white liberal racism, while also managing to scare the socks off us. This is Jordan Peele’s first film as writer/director–you know him from the sketch comedy team Key and Peele–and he’s super-smart, and his film is cringe-worthily funny and the last half hour, I was on the edge of my seat. Even if you don’t much like horror as a genre, this film is so well done, so perfectly poised between terrifying and hilarious, it’s a film you need to see. FWIW, its Rottentomatoes.com score is a straight up 100%. Deservedly.
Meet the Armitage family. Dad (Bradley Whitford) is a neurosurgeon, Mom (Catherine Keener) is a psychiatrist/hypnotist, and they live in a gorgeous, huge home way off in the woods somewhere. Daughter Rose (Allison Williams) is coming home with her latest boyfriend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a photographer who also happens to be black. She hasn’t told her parents, and Chris is nervous, but, she reassures him, needlessly. They’re cool. They’re liberal. Her Dad voted for Obama twice, and would have voted for him a third time if he’d been running. So it’s Guess Whose Coming to Dinner, updated. There’s another Armitage too, younger brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), also a doctor, but also something of an annoying brat sibling. Anyway, they’re all nice people, the Armitages, though perhaps just a teensy too anxious to mention, as though in passing, how much they admire Jesse Owens.
But before getting to her parents’ house, Rose and Chris have an unsettling episode. Their car hits a deer, and the police officer who investigates the accident is just that much too interested in this white woman’s black guest. She backs the cop down, but Chris is already uncomfortable before he even meets the fam.
Also–this is so embarrassing–the Armitage household includes two black servants. I know; the optics aren’t great. But, you see, Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson) are basically family. Though every time Chris interacts with them, Georgina and Walter are . . . off. Giving off weird and creepy vibes. But Chris is probably just overreacting. The Armitage’s are surely nothing worse than privileged and accordingly clue-less.
I don’t want to give away spoilers here. But part of what makes this movie so scary is the way it literalizes prevailing retrograde white liberal attitudes towards race. Do we not, in a sense, rather wish we were black? While still insisting that having blacks serve us is okay as long as they’re treated as family, respected and admired and all that. The evil at the heart of this oh-so-pleasant family perhaps doesn’t quite stand up to a lot of scrutiny, but for the two hours of the movie, it’s beyond chilling.
One thing I love about this movie is how even basic plot points are conveyed, not through dialogue or some discovery, but through acting, through the choices made by the cast. I mean, sure, there’s revelatory dialogue and opportune discoveries, but sometimes, there’s just an actor’s face, telling us what we need to know. This is particularly true of Betty Gabriel, Georgina, who smilingly offers the most innocuous explanation for having misplaced Chris’ cell phone, with a single tear undercutting every word from her mouth. It’s a brilliant scene, and without even knowing what it means, you want to shout to Chris to run, escape, Get Out.
Comedic filmmaking of this kind, this kind of character-driven social satire, requires carefully composed shots with little camera movement, so we can focus on what they’re saying. This is especially true of the film’s comic tour-de-force, a garden party with the Armitage and 50 of their closest friends. And after a golfing enthusiast Armitage buddy tells Chris how much he loves Tiger Woods, and after a woman asks Rose, with a wink and a nod, if it’s true, what they say about Black men, Chris has basically had it with these people. It’s a funny scene, and Peele knows how to frame it and shoot it and cut it to highlight the comedy.
But horror is more about what we can’t quite see; it’s about slow camera movies, panning past harmless (but maybe not quite so harmless) objects, letting tension mount. Peele knows how to do that too. He’s great with the camera and he’s great with lighting, and he knows how to sustain a joke, and he’s amazing with actors, and he also knows how to scare us.
It’s a great piece of filmmaking, you know? And a terrific film for our age. If you’re not already woke, this film should do the job. Especially if you are willing to admit you’re both in on, and the butt of the joke.