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Non-Review Review: Get Out

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Get Out is a fantastic horror comedy from Jordan Peele.

The premise of Get Out is relatively straightforward, with Rose taking her African American boyfriend Chris home to meet her wealthy white parents. What follows is essentially a twenty-first century horror movie twist on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, in which Chris finds himself growing increasingly uncomfortable in the presence of Rose’s very liberal parents. There is an awkward unease to his visit with the family, beneath all the welcoming smiles and the mannered politeness.

Terrorvision.

Terrorvision.

Get Out is a brilliantly wry and ironic piece of film-making, building a very traditional horror movie around a very intangible discomfort. After all, racism is not always something that can be cleanly defined and measured, often reflected in implications and patterns more than individual statements and actions. Get Out masterfully plays on this tension of something so horrifying being rendered so ethereal, most notably through its repeated (effective) use of scare chords and horror angles making normal social interactions especially uncomfortable.

Get Out is a promising directorial debut from veteran comedian Jordan Peele, one that skilfully uses the flexibility and surrealism of conventional horror beats to build a well-observed and uncanny piece of social commentary.

Couldn't be Keener.

Couldn’t be Keener.

“Have you told them… have you told them I’m black?” Chris asks Rose awkwardly in the second scene of the film. Rose has arranged to take a trip home to visit her parents with Chris, and hopes to introduce them to her boyfriend of four five months. While Rose treats the trip like it is no big deal, Chris seems very uncomfortable making the journey. Even after Rose repeatedly assures her that her father is not a racist, just a “lame dad”, Chris still seems uncomfortable.

Over the first half of the film, Chris grows slowly suspicious of Rose’s extended family. However, he struggles to point to concrete examples of their racism. Rose insists that her father “would have voted for Obama for a third term”, something that he repeats in person. “He’s the best president of my life-time,” Dean assures his daughter’s boyfriend. The closest that the film comes to featuring the stereotypical hick racist is Rose’s brother Jeremy, who even menacing plays the banjo at one point.

Skeletons in the closet.

Skeletons in the closet.

However, there is still something deeply uncomfortable about this household. Dean praises Jesse Owens for standing up to Hitler, but makes a passing reference to how his father failed to get a place at the Olympics. Offering a tour of the household, Dean repeatedly points to artifacts and relics from all over the world, talking about the joys of enriching his experiences by taking a little bit of a foreign culture. Chris is noticeably uncomfortable about the two African American servants working the grounds, but Dean insists it’s perfectly innocent.

This is a fascinating and compelling version of horror movie racism, one that comes a long way from stereotypes about backwards rural racists. Instead, Rose’s family embodies an altogether different expression of racial anxiety, radiating from liberal and wealthy individuals who exoticise and appropriate African American culture. These are people who genuinely believe that any lingering white guilt was washed away with the election of President Obama and their fondness for Tiger Woods.

The inside looking out.

The inside looking out.

Early in the film, it is suggested that Rose is aware of more stereotypical expressions of racism. She understands why a white police officer might insist upon seeing identification from a black man, even if the situation might not call from it, and she calls that out. However, she is oblivious to the smaller micro-aggressions and the casualness of appropriation. No matter how liberal Rose might be, she simply does not have the same lived-in experience as Chris. She cannot recognise these indicators. In fact, she might perpetuate them herself.

(Interestingly enough, Get Out repeatedly engages with the fetishisation of black bodies by white people. The wealthy white characters in Get Out are very proud of their connections to black people as a marker of status, and tend to treat the African Americans in their midst as a curiousity to be explored. Black bodies become almost a status symbol over the course of Get Out, a way of signalling virtue from wealthy white people, a way to communicate their own goodness. Men insist that Chris perform for them, while women revel at his physique.)

Chris' crisis.

Chris’ crisis.

The beauty of Get Out lies in how difficult all of this is to communicate or to document. These type of racism is less overt than segregation or the use of the “n-word.” It is more insidious and more subtle. “Sometimes,” Chris confesses, “when I’m surrounded by white people, I get scared.” It is hard to explain why in concrete terms, particularly when Rose’s family are so polite to him. However, Get Out juxtaposes that “hard to put a finger on” unease with a more conventional horror movie structure.

Michael Abels’ score consciously evokes the work of Bernard Herrmann. It frequently seems like Rose and Chris have traveled home with the string section of an orchestra in the back seat of their car. Peele is a very effective comedian, as demonstrated by his work on Key and Peele. Part of what made Key and Peele so effective was that sharp dissonance between pop culture and reality, and Get Out works so well because it hits just about ever expected horror beat in a film about a subject that shouldn’t lend itself to these elements.

Maid better.

Maid better.

Indeed, Peele’s understanding of the genre is so effective that many of his standard jump scares actually work, in spite of the fact that they are gags. When a figure moves in the background and the scare chord plays, the audience jumps in their seat. It’s only a moment later that they laugh at the fact that the image itself is not particularly scary. Peele embraces the opportunities presented by the genre, and Get Out works especially well in its third act as it follows its themes and preoccupations to their logical conclusions.

Get Out is a fantastic piece of work, a horror comedy that is funny when its scary and uncomfortable when it is straightforward. It is a triumph.

I don’t normally rate films, but the Audi Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 4

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6 Responses

  1. Neat review.

    That said… honestly… I found the film very poor, a thin veneer of a timely idea lazily stretched across a collection of horror cliches, played with a leaden irony that wasn’t fresh even when when ‘Scream’ did it more than twenty years ago. The logic falls apart completely in many places – as you note the brother character is a complete cartoon who doesn’t even make sense within the narrative.

    • I don’t know. I thought it was meant to be a live-action cartoon. More in the style of “Cabin in the Woods” than “Scream”, to the point that it clearly wasn’t unfolding in a world that is literally our own. (And I thought its own logic was surprisingly sound; it only dawned on me on the way home that the grandfather was sprinting around the property late at night because he was still obsessed with beating Jesse Owens.)

  2. Great review, though you left out the best character in the entire movie: ROD! He was so funny every time he showed up!

    I really liked the movie, I thought it was very well done, you get the sense that there is something deeply wrong going on here. When something scary happens, it actually is frightening. It helps that Chris is a likable main character and you’re actually rooting for him to get through the movie alive.

    Although… Rose being oblivious… heh heh…

    • Yeah, I’m always wary of putting spoilers in these reviews. I do try to use ambiguous language, though. A lot of “seems” or “appears.” I don’t like spoiling, but I’m not fond of lying either.

      And Rod was great. I loved the scene in which he explains the plot to the various law enforcement officials.

  3. I thought the film was very good. I did not foresee what the evil plan was that the white people were doing. Also, the twist just added an extra layer of creepy discomfort. I do wish there had been a positive female character in the film, as instead we got the trapping girl friend, domineering mother, and sassy female police office. That is a minor complaint, however, as the film accomplished exactly what it set out to do; leave you feeling highly uncomfortable. Also, I’m glad the filmmakers did not go with the original nihilist ending, as sometimes it is nice to have a hopeful message to end a film. All in all, one of the films I’ve seen that have actually lived up to the hype.

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