It’s been a long time since I left the cinema with the kind of giddy, unexpected satisfaction that I experienced after seeing Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a film that is in equal parts entertaining and thought-provoking. Arriving on UK screens riding a wave of mostly positive reviews, Peele’s feature-film directing debut has already broken box office records. More importantly, he’s also delivered a story that showcases real originality and the uniqueness of his vision, in the form of a darkly comic social thriller that is as surprising as it is unsettling. Its boldness guarantees that viewers will leave having had a strong response and quite possibly ample discussion material for the inevitable post-film dissection.
Ultimately, Get Out is a film about racism – in particular the nuanced, multifaceted nightmare of its existence in modern day America. That it’s a subject that has very rarely been explored in the traditional thriller/horror genre only makes Get Out that much more appealing. The fact it arrives in a period of widespread police brutality in the era of a Trump presidency makes its social message essential for our times.
SPOILER ALERT: If you have not yet seen Get Out, please note there are spoilers ahead!
The story follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young black man about to head off with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her parents for the first time. Chris is initially concerned about the prospect of spending the weekend with her family (Rose dismisses those concerns, telling him that her parents aren’t racist because they “would have voted for Obama for a third term”).
But Chris’s doubts persist, and he discusses it with his friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), who warns him off the visit to the family’s suburban home. Ultimately Chris ignores his fears, and travels with Rose to her secluded family estate. There he meets her polite (yet unnerving) parents, Missy and Dean Armitage (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford).
It isn’t long before their creepiness turns downright sinister, as Chris learns that her parents have more horrific plans in mind for him than he could have ever imagined.
A movie like Get Out, with its often uncanny, supernatural material, needed a leading man who could ground the film in believable territory, a task that Daniel Kaluuya more than rises to. I can’t express how refreshing it was to see a thriller/horror not only place a black man at the centre, but make his experiences (and ultimately his triumph) central to the story.
Chris tolerates a seemingly endless stream of insults throughout. There’s the casual assumption of criminality on the part of a police officer (when they end up in a car accident, the officer demands to see Chris’s ID, well aware that it was Rose who was driving). And who could forget the water-cooler microaggressions at Rose’s family party – from the female guest who feels up Chris like a piece of meat while quizzing Rose on their sex life, keen to fulfil her Mandingo fetish; to the old man who gleefully informs him that black is ‘back in fashion’. But the film positions Chris as a smart hero who is often one step ahead, so when things take a more sinister turn, it’s refreshing to see his resourcefulness and resilience. For the most part, Chris succeeds at saving himself.
Of course, like all the best horror or thriller movies there’s the need for an equally impressive monster, and Get Out gives us more than a few, but none are more chilling than Mr and Mrs Armitage – imagine Meet the Parents via Basic Instinct with a dash of hypnosis and you have an idea of how their idyllic marriage and tranquil home masks some truly horrific urges.
It’s in depicting those urges that the film really comes into its own and offers some of the best examinations of racism in America that we’ve seen on screen for years. The Armitages think of themselves as the perfect liberals, but lurking beneath their façade is a desire to inhabit the bodies of black people (while simultaneously banishing them into ‘the sunken place’, a terrifying state of isolated powerlessness that strips them of all hope and agency). This suburban bodysnatching, we eventually realise, has been going on for some time – the young black man who is kidnapped at the opening of the film is only one of countless victims who have gone missing in the area.
The horror lies in the fact it isn’t hate-fuelled lynch mobs who are responsible, but rather golf playing, social suburbanites, who smother Chris with smiles and handshakes before holding a backyard bingo slave auction to see who gets to lobotomise his brain.
You wouldn’t think there’s much room in the film for comedy, but Peele uses humour to give his audience a break from all the horror – most brilliantly in the form of Chris’s equally resourceful (and often scene-stealing) friend Rod. It’s their bromance that is at the heart of the film, a brotherhood that remains unbroken even after Chris disappears off the radar – ultimately, it’s Rod who helps Chris make it out of suburbia alive.
Thankfully, Chris (although more than a little traumatised) does make it out in one piece – and with that ending comes a sense of hope. Get Out set out to discuss the realities of racism, but in doing so sends its viewers the message that those challenges of oppression can be overcome. It’s the kind of film that feels satisfying as entertainment, but also succeeds at being something much more – an unflinching exploration of prejudice.
It’s been suggested that Get Out is the first in a series of films exploring social issues that Jordan Peele intends to make, so with any luck it won’t be long before we have another thought-provoking thriller on our hands.