Get Out Director: Jordan Peele
Screenwriter: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Lil Rel Howery, Keith Stanfield, Stephen Root, Betty Gabriel
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Rated R | 103 Minutes
Release Date: February 24, 2017
Whether it’s Rosemary’s Baby, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or Videodrome, the best horror films act as subversive social commentaries, dealing with humanity’s fears on a subconscious level and offering a kind of communal catharsis.
In his 1981 non-fiction book, Danse Macabre, author Stephen King states that the horror genre can “serve as an extraordinarily accurate barometer of those things which trouble the night-thoughts of a whole society.” George A. Romero’s landmark 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead, for example, was rife with racial commentary during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
With the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X fresh in the minds of Americans, here was a film where a resourceful black hero, Ben (played by Duane Jones), survives a zombie outbreak only to be killed in broad daylight by a redneck posse exercising their Second Amendment rights. “That’s another one for the fire,” the militia leader says indifferently as the good ol’ boys put Ben’s body with the rest of the corpses.
The reverberations of Ben’s death can still be felt in speculative cinema today with Get Out, a provocative horror-thriller from Jordan Peele (Key and Peele, Keanu) that feels like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets The People Under the Stairs. Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario) stars as Chris, an African-American photographer who is going on a weekend getaway upstate with his Caucasian girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams, Girls), to meet her parents for the first time.
Chris is apprehensive about the visit, as Rose hasn’t told her parents, Missy and Dean Armitage (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford), that he’s black. Rose attempts to put his anxiety at ease by assuring him that her parents aren’t racist – her dad would have voted for Barack Obama for a third term if he could have! At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to accept their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly bizarre events makes Chris question why he’s really there. Adding to his paranoia is the unsettling revelation that a number of black men have gone missing in the area.
And then there’s the issue of the family’s black servants, housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel, The Purge: Election Year) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson, Django Unchained). Whether it’s Walter’s dead-eyed sprint about the grounds at night or Georgina’s cold, detached gaze, neither of them seems like they’re all there. Complicating things further is Rose’s aggressive, alcoholic brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones, Antiviral), who is obsessed with Chris’ genetic makeup and athletic abilities.
Chris’ best friend, Rod Williams (Milton “Lil Rel” Howery, The Carmichael Show), serves as the film’s comedic relief and unwavering voice of reason. He has several phone calls with Chris throughout his time at the family estate, constantly reminding his friend that this whole thing was a bad idea. At the same time, Rod is using his detective skills to get to the bottom of the mystery, to hilarious effect. Howery and the rest of Peele’s impressive ensemble turn in pitch-perfect performances, with Daniel Kaluuya, whose next film is Marvel’s Black Panther, emerging as someone to watch.
To say anything else about the plot would be revealing too much, as Get Out is filled with twists and turns that will leave audiences doubling over in laughter and shrieking in terror. It’s obvious that Peele, making his directorial debut here, has a deep understanding (and appreciation) for the genre, as he expertly wields its tropes only to subvert them at every turn. The result is a movie that is not only funny, scary, and flawlessly executed, but one that is as thought-provoking and vital as any of the classic horror films mentioned here.
1954’s Godzilla was a Japanese reaction to the devastation of the atomic bomb. 1972’s Last House on the Left and 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were a reflection of the violence and inhumanity that dominated much of the Vietnam War era. 2017’s Get Out is a response to an American monster that, like the horror icons of old, refuses to stay dead: racism.
In our country’s most trying times since the turbulent ’60s – a time in which Black Lives Matter activists march for justice against the ever-present threat of White Nationalism – Peele has created a phenomenal film that we’ll be talking about for a long time because, like Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, its critique of race in America may, sadly, always be relevant.