Get Out Review – American Horror, Comedy and Racism in 2017: Peele’s Get Out Gets It
Get Out defies categorization in a way that lifts it above typical horror films, mediocre thrillers and unsubstantial social commentaries. It is as funny as it is unnerving, intelligent as it is pointed and subtle as it is, well, quite overt at times. In a lesser film, some of these seemingly contradictory qualities would be muddled in the mismanagement of the overall balance. Instead, Get Out maintains consistency that does not overstay its welcome.
To get you up to speed, here’s a spoiler-free lead-in to the film. Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) join her family for a weekend get-together with guests at Armitage estate for a friendly gathering. Chris, a professional photographer, also happens to be a young African-American man. The Armitages and their guests are Caucasian middle- and upper-class men. The film proceeds to explore conceptions of racism and violence in a classic tale of the outsider trapped inside.
The short and the long of it is that Get Out is a fantastic film that hits on the right beats of its genre and exceeds expectations set by those that came before it. It plays on the audiences’ own knowledge of the current societal tension pertaining to race in the United States. If you aren’t looking for its poignant political message and all you want is horror, know that Get Out is genuinely scary on a surface level. Nevertheless, understand that this is not a scream-a-minute jump-fest, it is contemplative and smart in its crafting of both scares and jokes. You will enjoy it more with your eyes fully open to its horror, comedy, and message, but not just one of the three.
Get Out is Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, which is no small feat considering he is best known for his comedic roles and writing credits. While it may seem like a strange career shift, Peele’s eye for timing and the slow release of information to control the audiences’ interpretation of the narrative translates perfectly from comedy to horror.
The laughs-to-scares balance is carefully managed, especially since the film focuses more on tension than it does on jump scares in the latter two acts. The development and release of this tension is handled very much like a well-written joke, not to mention the comedy’s own role in the stability of humour and discomfort. While a jump scare is cheap, early bait to create uncertainty, the playful juggling of comedy and horror is the core of Get Out’s emotional theme. The alternation between these two emotional responses is also employed in its trickle of mystery. Like many good horror films, it leads audiences to conclusions without obtuse gestures or references, only to mislead them once the pattern is set and the sense of comfort is established.
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With that said, Get Out doesn’t really have many surprises tucked away. It is a good mystery and it does not tip its hand too early, but there seems to be a formula at work. There are conveniently timed plot beats and some blatantly specific references made that seem almost oddly centric to certain conversations between characters. However, the film is winding and complex enough that it remains one step ahead for long enough that the audiences do not have the time to play detective. Each scene is compelling enough to hold attention rather than allow your mind to wander off to pick the plot apart in search of protruding clues.
There are two different questions, two different thematic threads being followed in Get Out that make it a successful, complex narrative: Where are the scares and how can I anticipate them? And, what is the appropriate interpretation of society’s racial tension in a present that has demonstrated turbulence? In simpler terms with the knowledge of an increasingly unsteady racial environment: What is my immediate response to a scenario in which a young black man is surrounded by a group of aging white people in a secluded, predominantly white area of the United States? Each of these is answered, or at least eluded to, by presenting what the audience might believe to be expected, and it finishes with the unexpected, despite the anticipation of a repetition of the familiar pattern.
I am a straight white male. I do not experience social, racial or sexual persecution. I cannot relate to characters in the same way as someone that might share the same hardships. Despite these differences, Get Out is able to place me in the shoes of the lead, Chris Washington, where I am forced to experience a kind of discomfort that I am not subjected to in my own life. This is not unlike the film Alien, a film that is intended to force discomfort in men through male rape and pregnancy analogies and fears. I cannot feel the same kind of fear as Chris Washington, but I am able to comprehend how his predicament would be ever so uncomfortable. This is also comparable to the recent horror gem The Invitation, where the main character is subjected to unwelcoming hosts and a constant sense of seclusion.
And therein lies the most important element of Get Out’s frightening narrative. The film builds its characters and setting on the base of the audiences’ understanding of racial tensions and the identifiable mannerisms of middle- to upper-class white people. This is emphasized, and in some cases exaggerated, to develop both comedic and suspicious responses. With that established, the film presents us with an outsider character in a world filled with a historically hostile other. Chris searches for something familiar amidst the strange setting, which he does find in the form of a groundskeeper, a housekeeper and a party guest who are also black. These characters, while on the surface are gleams of hopeful outlets for Chris, they are withdrawn by demonstrating inherently, yet slightly cliché tendencies of older white people. The familiarity is stripped away, isolating Chris further.
Get Out Review: Trailer
The setting feels real. The scenario is so familiar. It is an entirely believable occurrence, and that allows Peele to toy with the audience and its suspension of disbelief in other was. Once the truth behind the weekend visit is fully fleshed out, the audience is roped in and ready for the punch line. Get Out earns its finale and yet it continues to play with the audiences’ preconceived notions of both the horror pattern and the social environment.
Get Out Review: Poster
Get Out is a strong effort from its cast and crew, delivering well-balanced horror with strong notes of comedy and politics that don’t step on one another’s toes. It’s a little formulaic in places, but the sense of conscious dread never lifts long enough to allow the audience to care; the pointed jokes and cunning jabs fill those gaps in a timely manner. Get Out is worthwhile, as long as you don’t shut your mind off. It’s more fun that way.