One doesn’t expect Jordan Peele’s name on the writing and directing credits of a horror film, but Get Out is his baby through and through. The film tackles systemic racism and is, perhaps, a defining moment in black horror history; but it’s not fair to Peele to boil down Get Out to a sole sociological perspective and forget about those elements of the film that shine, from the tense scenes to the comedic infusion throughout much of the movie. Though Get Out is a risky venture for a fledgling director, these elements come together for a fascinating mix of criticism and black humor that manages to elicit a visceral response – either relief that a topic is explored so explicitly, or anger about that topic.
Get Out follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams), a couple visiting Rose’s parents’ house for the weekend for the dreaded family-boyfriend meeting. Those introductions are tense anyway, and Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener) are both well-to-do doctors – a neurosurgeon and a hypnotherapist/psychiatrist, respectively – making the scenario even more nerve-wracking. But it also doesn’t help that Chris is black, meeting a family whose main topic of conversation with black men happens to be, “I would have voted for Obama for a third term if I could have!” This in itself is a comedic setup, with Peele riffing on the veiled racism of such remarks and the absurdity of the Armitages’ interactions with another human being; but then Get Out ups the ante with the introduction of a series of strange black servants working at the household, with the film’s plot getting increasingly bizarre from there.
Peele has a great sense of direction, and it’s aided by the work his cast does with their characters. Kaluuya in particular is excellent in awkward situations (mostly the entirety of Get Out) reacting nonchalantly or mumbling vague responses even though it’s clear the hidden racism is taking a toll on his mental health. It starts with an interaction with a cop where he makes Chris give him his driver’s license even though he wasn’t driving the car; but over the course of the film, the white people living near the Armitages continue to deliver an exponentially ridiculous dose of prejudice, to the point where they ask Chris to describe the plight of the black man in the art world.
These moments are played for laughs but also strike a serious nerve – Peele’s white characters are somewhat stereotypical, but they aren’t unrealistic either. These are people who have rarely met a person of color, and the ways in which they talk to Chris as though he’s a different species continue to affect the way Get Out’s plot morphs. Peele is finding comedy in the absurdity of the situation – and in truth LilRel Howery steals the show more than once as the comedic distraction/hero Rod – but there’s horror steeped in with those laughs, an uncomfortable chuckle that reminds the audience we are a distance away from racial equality.
It’s important to note, though, that Get Out‘s main purpose isn’t just to explore societal injustice. It’s a vehicle for all of humanity’s illnesses and a thematic reminder that death and decay is inevitable, even when we’re able to forget about it for most of our short lives. The film’s horror plot can be gleaned from the trailers themselves; everything that the audience surmises is actually going on, with the Armitages using hypnotism to amass a bunch of black caretakers. At the same time, though, Peele crafts a compelling argument with his final twist (which I won’t reveal): the attacks on Chris are not even racially motivated, but simply a way to extend life.
That’s a huge distinction in Get Out, one that actually says a lot about racism in America. The Armitages aren’t collecting black people to do their bidding because they hate blacks and want to enslave them; they’re doing it because it’s acceptable. They can get away with it because that oppression is so common that it doesn’t even stand out. It’s a huge revelation, but unfortunately one that some unwilling to accept Get Out‘s thematic impetus can ignore. Still, it’s difficult to shrug off the final scene’s shot of a police car crawling up to Chris, a black man standing over a dead woman – Peele’s powerful imagery says more than some films manage to drum up during the entirety of their running times.
Get Out isn’t without its flaws – the cliches and the simplicity of the plot being the two that stand out the most – but these are small prices to pay for a film that gets in the heads of its audience. Even so, it’s a disservice to call Get Out psychological; there’s nothing in this film that should have viewers scratching their heads commenting, “I thought black people had it so good, but this movie blew my mind!” Instead, Peele brings all of those feelings into the spotlight, and mixes it with a damn good horror film.