Back in 1996, Scream was the breath of fresh air that the genre desperately needed. Horror was in dire straits before that film came along and audiences were clearly in need of something fresh and new because, as we all know now, Scream became a word of mouth sensation that ushered in a new era for the horror genre.
It’s now 2017 and Jordan Peele’s Get Out has come prepared to make that very same impact. This is a horror film but it’s really unlike any horror film I’ve seen in quite some time. 2016 was a great year for the genre as well but this release feels like a game changer. It’s an example of new ideas being explored in the most creative way and it manages to balance two genres that can prove to be hard to get right in one film: comedy and horror.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black man, expects it to be uncomfortable when he accompanies his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), to her childhood home to meet her parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), and a host of their high-class friends. Although Mom and Dad seem accommodating, Chris senses that something is “off” and his fears are heightened when he notices the bizarre behaviors of the maid (Betty Gabriel) and the groundskeeper (Marcus Henderson), the only two other African Americans in the vicinity. Then, when Missy offers to hypnotize him to cure his smoking addiction, he wonders whether there’s a connection between her talents and the strange things going on around him.
Tone in these kinds of films is sometimes a struggle to get right but Get Out brilliantly finds the perfect balance. The comedy is a bit on the satirical side and it gets its fair share of laughs by addressing social issues in a clever way. That’s not to say that the horror is muted because of this. The film has its share of “boo” moments but Peele wants us to remember that not all horror films have to be caught in a constant cycle of high intensity in order to build tension. There is a sense of lingering tension that is more impactful than throwing scares right in your face. Much like Daniel, you feel like something isn’t right and you’re discovering the truth along with him. This was an aspect of the film that had me completely invested.
Get Out has something to say about race relations although how much you take from it is probably in the eye of the beholder. The most obvious takeaways relate to the differences between white and black culture and the curious mix of condescension and envy that can co-exist in the minds and attitudes of some. There were definitely moments that were more obvious than others and their impact was felt by the audience I saw it with who laughed along with a sense of totally getting the truth behind the subtext. Some of it I’ve personally experienced (the need to discuss any possible connection to Black people when in conversation with a Black person. (i.e. “I would have voted for President Obama three times.” or “I loved watching Tiger hit those balls.“). That was one moment that definitely gave me a chuckle and then there are other slightly heavier examples of the differences between cultures. A scene with Chris and Rose getting questioned by a police officer, and Rose getting indignant in a way that some might think a pretty white woman could get away with, is a prime example of some of the cultural beats that Peele tackles but not in an overly heavy-handed way that might alienate the audience.
Get Out really uses its “stranger in a strange land” plot device in the best way possible. While the blend of comedy and horror is tonally relatable to Scream, it also pays a bit of an homage to films like Deliverance. Its connection to that film is even more obvious when you feel how alienated Chris is in his foreign, and potentially lethal, new setting. The film also calls back a bit to a movie like The Stepford Wives because of how different characters act and react. Of course we, like Chris, find their behavior odd but no one else seems to, which adds to the psychological aspect of Chris projecting his uneasiness or if there is really something strange going on.
I’m not too familiar with Daniel Kaluuya but his portrayal is very key to why the film really works. He is instantly likable and we immediately connect with him. We have to be on the journey with him from the start and the normalcy he portrays allows us to do just that. It also leads to some strong crowd-pleasing moments later in the film. As Rose, Allison Williams is equally appealing. You buy her color-blind nature and her affection for her boyfriend but you also buy her being a bit too trusting of her family. It’s a role that may seem easy on paper but she brings a lot to the part. As her mom and dad, Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford are pitch perfect. They are nice enough but also have just enough creepiness to make you question their intentions. Also worthy of a mention is LilRel Howery (as Chris’ best friend, TSA worker Rod), who is responsible for many of the film’s biggest laughs and definitely shifts the tone at the right moments to take a little break from the uneasiness and tension.
The only negative thing I can say about the film is that it has the occasional pacing issues but this isn’t detrimental in the long run. Horror fans are always seeking something new and original and it looks like we have another genre defining film and bringing credibility to the world of horror.
Get Out is the horror film you didn’t think you needed but you’re more than happy to have it.