With his incredible comedy career as the latter half of sketch legends Key and Peele, Jordan Peele understands escalation as well as any other filmmaker working today. While that skill of course lends itself to fantastic comedy, it also means that making a genuinely brilliant horror movie is very much in Peele’s wheelhouse. Get Out is the exhilarating proof of this, a breathless and relentless horror/thriller that also happens to be a biting and very, very funny social satire on the so-called ‘post-racial’ American culture. Having already made history in the US by being the first debut by a black director to cross the $100 million barrier at the box office (on a typically tiny Blumhouse budget of $4 million), Get Out’s arrival on our shores should be greeted by running to the cinema as soon as possible.
At a basic level, Get Out is about the fears of meeting a significant other’s parents, and how those fears are amplified and exacerbated when race enters the mix. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is a black man heading to meet his white girlfriend Rose Armitage’s (Alison Williams) incredibly rich parents on their countryside estate. Initially, the meeting is fine, though made uncomfortable by Rose’s mum and dad (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) putting on a show about how Not Racist they are, even though it seems that the only black people they know are their house- and groundskeepers.
This façade slowly comes crumbling down, with an incredibly suspenseful decline from an awkward white liberal welcome into psychotic mental torture. Hints as to what exactly is going on are dropped at just the right pace, so that we’re in Chris’ headspace for the entirety of his descent into a rabbit hole of terror. Getting too deep into the plot would enter spoiler territory, and Get Out’s marketing has been very coy about where exactly its story’s headed, but suffice to say that the reveals and twists as it goes along are all intricately woven and well-handled – a second viewing seems a necessity.
Trailers for the film have been very specific in letting us know that this is not just a movie by Jordan Peele, it’s ‘From the Mind of Jordan Peele’. This additional song and dance is more than earned by the finished product. Peele’s horror vision is a unique one, from having its central racist threats be upper class Northerners instead of the clichéd Southern rednecks (though Deliverance-esque banjo playing makes an appearance), to the central conceit of hypnosis as the villains’ weapon of choice.
After an initial hypnotherapy session, it becomes clear that Chris can now be rendered immobile by the mere tapping of a spoon against a china cup, while still able to see and hear. Whenever this happens, he enters ‘the Sunken Place’, which is visually represented in a way that is memorable both for its originality and its deeply unsettling power. Not only that, but the way Chris in particular perceives this state is based on the very strong character work done by Peele and Kaluuya, adding yet another layer to this wildly intelligent script.
Kaluuya, already a provably brilliant actor thanks to his varied British TV work, is terrific in what must surely be a breakout role for his US career. Weary and wary from the off, the way he has Chris’ fear and desperation transition into anger and drive is startlingly convincing. Without his stellar work, the third act move into gung ho violence might have fallen flat. Instead, it’s pulse-pounding, sickening, and cathartic in equal measure. Elsewhere, Alison Williams impresses in a difficult and multifaceted role, while Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are of course excellent. And special mention has to go to Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel as the Armitage family help, both of whom are threateningly creepy in their seeming placidity.
Even without the more overt horror tropes, Get Out is a needling look at race relations in America. With their overly enthusiastic welcome for Chris, the Armitages only draw more attention to his race, calling him ‘my man’ constantly and making strained conversation about their favourite black celebrities. Even Alison makes Chris feel ‘other’, her sheltered racial ignorance forcing Chris into a position of having to frequently pardon her for her privileged insensitivities.
That’s not to say that Peele has abandoned his comedic touch. Get Out is very funny, with Chris’ genre-savvy friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) getting some hilarious monologues about serial killers while cringier humour is saved for a party where elderly wealthy whites try to prove their cool credentials to Chris. But, though it is used very effectively, comedy is not Peele’s primary purpose here. He’s creating a true thriller, one that had my heart racing for much of its first two thirds and the entirety of its final act. Gruesome and frenetic, with some proper hide-behind-your-hands deaths, it’s a masterful ending that punctuates its tension with perfect judgement and precision.
Veering from comedy to realism to demented genre action without missing a beat, Get Out is the perfect antidote to identikit horror movies and the best film I’ve seen so far in 2017, and it even has a few nice Key and Peele references to reward observant fans. Demanding at least one rewatch, it’s a brilliant first foray into solo movie-making for Peele, already a critical and commercial smash hit that ensures plenty more where this came from. Thank God.