“Get Out” is a film that deserves to be seen. I’m not saying that it’s perfect, far from it actually, but it’s the latest in a string of horror movies that show what can be done within the confines of the genre. In recent times films like “It Follows”, “Don’t Breathe”, “The Witch”, and “The Babadook” have each renewed my love for horror by championing their concepts above all else and using them to explore themes such as sexuality, grief, religion, and mental health. “Get Out” is similar in that it uses a simple premise to examine its theme, racism in the modern world, whilst intelligently allowing one to inform the other and vice versa.
Jordan Peele (the film’s director) introduces tension immediately, setting the stakes for what’s to come with an eerie opening scene in which a young man is kidnapped by a masked assailant. This scene doesn’t necessarily give the audience any further information than that which could’ve been deduced from the film’s trailer, but it does its job by creating an unsettling tone and eliminating any inclination to believe that strange moments in the story are the result of coincidence. It lets you know conclusively that something sordid is going on behind the scenes, thus establishing a sense of intrigue and giving you the satisfying feeling that you know something that the protagonist does not.
Peele then turns his attention to said protagonist, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), fleshing out his basic motivations and establishing his relationship with his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams). From here it’s all about creating a mood, something which is crucial in any horror movie but especially when there’s an element of comedy involved as well. It’s fair to say that this is where “Get Out” shines as the mood which is produced fits the film perfectly and permeates every scene. There’s a hypnotic feel to “Get Out” which gives the experience a dreamlike quality, something which is clearly intentional as hypnosis is a key plot device in the film. There’s also a sense of voyeurism about the film, as oftentimes it feels as though you’re watching something that you really shouldn’t be – something private and alien.
Still, whilst “Get Out” is unsettling in many ways there’s also something surreally funny about it, even in its darker moments, with the eccentricity of the antagonists making the situation almost too bizarre to be taken seriously. This again feels completely intentional, not only because this film has been marketed as a comedy-horror hybrid, but also because it plays on the absurdity which is inherent in the situation that Chris is placed in.
The film’s initial tension is built upon the notion that there’s some sort of problem with a white woman bringing a black man home to meet her parents, so it makes sense to present the situation as peculiar given that a normal person wouldn’t hold that belief. Peele is careful to ensure that social commentary isn’t the film’s primary focus, cleverly framing it within an outlandish narrative in order to show just how laughable the problem is to begin with, whilst also making that narrative interesting enough to hold the audience’s attention regardless of whether or not the commentary was there at all.
The form of racism that “Get Out” considers is commonplace and often unintentional; the kind that’s implicit in the efforts that we make to portray ourselves as free from any and all prejudices. In trying to convince the world that we believe in equality it often happens that we display the opposite, as in virtue of that fact that we’re making a special effort to accommodate a certain race of people we inadvertently acknowledge that race plays a role in the judgements that we are making.
Peele’s way of examining this issue is through extreme scenarios given the story that he’s telling, so it’s pretty easy to pick up on if you’re willing to look for it but also easy to ignore if you’d prefer to turn your brain off. The most obvious scene in which Peele presents this type of racism is at a party in which a guest notes that ‘black is in’. This comment is insulting and degrading for Chris as the guest is comparing his skin colour to a fashion accessory, thus devaluing his humanity, but the guest views it as a compliment made to build rapport.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this scene is that whilst it’s clear that Chris is offended by the comment he decides not to speak out. He stays silent to avoid embarrassing himself and others, to avoid conflict, and to make a good impression in front of his girlfriend’s family, just as we feign ignorance on a daily basis when we see people act in ways that we don’t agree with.
In this film the way that Chris rationalises strange behaviour works perfectly because it allows Peele to justify typical examples of horror movie logic without relying on the stupidity of his characters. Instead of relying on coincidence or the suspension of disbelief Peele uses the fact that Chris is in some sense desensitised to being treated differently to explain why he disregards strange behaviour and continues to surround himself with ignorance, thus making the character relatable and making his fate seem inevitable given that he’s also desperately trying to make a good impression.
Still, having heaped praise on “Get Out” and placing it alongside other modern horror triumphs like “It Follows” and “Don’t Breathe” I should concede that it inherits some of their issues as well. Whilst both of the aforementioned films live long in the memory and have some excellent moments their universes are populated with inconsistent rules and narrative oversights. “Get Out” is no different in either respect, as although bizarre behaviour is explained for the most part there are moments when characters act irrationally simply in to progress the plot.
(SPOILER ALERT) The best example of this occurred late in the film when Chris freed himself from his restraints by using a pair of makeshift earbuds, ensuring that Rose’s family couldn’t trigger his hypnosis. This in itself was actually a clever scene as it justified the inclusion of Chris’ backstory, but the problem was that he then immediately removed the earbuds before trying to leave the house. This didn’t make sense, as although he might have wanted to be able to hear movements in the house in order to navigate his way to freedom and avoid attacks, he opened himself up to being made unconscious at a moment’s notice! This isn’t a risk that he should’ve been willing to take given that he was fully aware of the consequences, and it seemed as though this decision was made simply to create further tension when he encountered Rose’s mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), who predictably attempted to hypnotise him.
Nevertheless, issues such as this were infrequent, and although they did alter my opinion of the film slightly they didn’t ruin it by any stretch of the imagination. Overall “Get Out” was an engaging and intelligent film with two excellent lead performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams respectively, and it was successful in establishing its mood early on and then capitalising on the creepiness of its premise. It was a beautiful film to watch and the dialogue was sharp, making for an experience which was both satisfying and entertaining.