I was hesitant to see Get Out because I am a giant baby and was nervous I’d be totally traumatized by this movie, which I was promised repeatedly was “not funny and actually really scary”. After seeing the movie I find both of those promises a little misleading – the movie is funny and not particularly scary (absurdly disturbing, yes, but not “scary” in the same way horror movies usually get me). I only had to close my eyes twice! And both of those were because of gore, not because I got spooked.
The fact that I had different expectations doesn’t mean the movie wasn’t good – it was! I don’t know if I loved it as much as it’s Rotten Tomato score, but it was still an intelligent, relevant movie with a whole lot of style and control. The film centers on Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) visiting his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) childhood home and meeting her upper-class white parents Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener in two knock-out performances). Issues arise for Chris almost immediately. Despite Rose’s insistence that her family isn’t racist, as well as their well-manicured “attempts to be sensitive” to Chris’ race (he is African-American) it is clear from step one they’re not sure how to interact with him. The only African-Americans in their life are their maid and groundskeeper, Georgina and Walter (Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson, who were my two favorite performances in a film full of strong performances). Georgina and Walter themselves are sort of odd-ducks, and Chris soon finds himself without any allies in a world at first insensitive before it becomes actively sinister.
Before I said Get Out didn’t make me feel scared, which is true. It more made me uncomfortable and disgusted, in exactly the ways I imagine it should. I’ll replicate a (rather long) but important quote from MLK this film seems to be in direct dialogue with:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
Missy and Dean exemplify this quote exactly. Dean insists he would have voted for Obama for a third term if he could have. It’s not a question of if he’s being honest or not. It doesn’t matter. His inability to interact comfortably and naturally with Chris says everything it needs to, regardless of who he would vote for. The racism here is not the racism of the outspoken, but the racism of the politely silent.
The movie also flips the script a little by casting the friendly suburban whites as the “other”, where traditionally in horror films they have been those who must defend against the “other”. Chris is outnumbered in a foreign land, surrounded by the other, and their whiteness scares him. Holding a mirror up to the friendly suburban white and casting them in a more traditionally evil role is a powerful trick, and through using the convention writer/director Jordan Peele gets the audience to associate themselves with Chris regardless of their race, allowing people who are a little “further” from Chris’ shoes in the real world to recognize how terrifying it can be to be a minority in a society that doesn’t care about empathizing with you.
I was a little disappointed when the third act came through and ratcheted the horror and discomfort up to the physical realm instead of keeping it insidiously under the surface (especially because the third act was more actiony/gory and less scary than a traditional horror movie). But I can’t imagine that Peele had any option except doing that, bound as he was by traditional horror standards. The plot would have to ratchet up eventually. Even the very final ending felt a little too easy to me, but a quick perusal of Wikipedia reveals that Peele too considered what I imagined would be the more powerful ending to the film, while also explaining why he rejected it.
Regardless of slightly different expectations and a minor disappointment in the third act, Get Out was a tight and socially important film, which did a good job of roping the audience in and offering a window into a horror some people live every day.
Get Out Got Out with eight of ten stars.
Get Out shares a lot of blood with Catherine Keener’s other stand out movie, Being John Malkovich, which from Malkovich’s perspective it absolutely 100% a horror flick.