Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams
Length: 1hr 44m
Now, I don’t make any secret of the fact that I adore horror films. In fact, I’m currently attempting to write my dissertation on the trope of the Final Girl (watch this space). I am also a huge fan of the comedic work of Get Out director Jordan Peele, in the Key & Peele sketch show he co-created with Keegan-Michael Key. So, when I heard these two favourites of mine were about to cross over, I was pleasantly buzzed. And rightly so. Get Out manages to be the best film I’ve seen in a very long time. At once challenging, funny, and at moments genuinely quite terrifying (at one point in the cinema, a man lets out a girlish, blood-curdling scream – cue laughter from the entire audience), Get Out makes a political statement out of a genre which usually gets by on little more than blood and guts.
Having reached the meet-the-parents milestone in their relationship, black photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) head upstate to meet her family – ex-neurosurgeon father Dean (Bradley Whitford), sinister hypnotist mother Missy (Catherine Keener), and hyperactive ukulele-playing brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). Initially appearing just a little overbearing and odd, middle-American white nervousness at an African American in their midst, there turns out to be far more than neoliberal angst at play. Every interaction Chris has with the family is pockmarked with racial microaggressions, and something about the bizarre monotone dialect and robotic behaviour of their two black servants, Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson) is deeply unsettling. The way they talk and carry themselves is distinctly un-black. Still, Chris swallows his tongue, tries to accept that this is just the bizarre reality of his potential in-laws. With Rose seeming equally baffled by her family’s weird behaviour, Chris appears to resign himself to soldiering through the weekend. Get in, get out.
It’s far from a straightforward horror narrative. Instead of a traditional scare affair, Get Out comes across like a picture which uses the genre as a vehicle to get its message across. It favours mounting tension over jump scares, although there are a fair few of those, but it’s much closer in tone to a thriller than anything else. Still, it has all the set up, pacing, and punchlines of a drawn-out joke, with spiky injections of comic relief from Chris’ best friend, eccentric TSA-agent Rod (Lil Rel Howery). Sticking a successful middle-finger up to genre convention, in this respect it starts to feel like From Dusk Till Dawn‘s more political cousin.
Credit must be given to the talents of two central cast members, Kaluuya and Williams. Kaluuya you may remember as Posh Kenneth from Skins, where interestingly he plays another racially fuelled character, a student who attempts to overcompensate for his upper-middle class background by buying awkwardly heavily into working-class black British culture, to the chagrin of his classmates. Clearly he’s had a long standing interest in exploring race in his acting. Claiming he does best when he’s just playing “normal dudes”, it’s clear Kaluuya thrives as the everyman, and he manages to exist as a relatable, believable character it’s easy to project yourself onto, without tripping up and falling flat, becoming one dimensional and wooden. Instead, the bewilderment on his face perfectly mirrors your own as you watch. But Williams almost steals the show. No spoilers here, but there’s a major twist for her character and she handles it perfectly, a gasp echoing through the audience where a lesser actress’ performance could maybe have left us feeling as though we could see it coming.
It’s hard to find an element of the film that isn’t incredibly well put together. With a score composed by Michael Abels, he’s cited in the opening credits, you know from the get go that it’s going to be impressive. The track which can perhaps be termed the theme tune to the movie, ‘Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga’, features a symphony of Swahili whisperings, layered over an eerie guitar riff. A quick Google search informs me that this translates to “listen to your ancestors”, and that the lyrics are loosely akin to “Something bad is coming./Run”. It’s a gorgeously composed piece of music, the words issuing a warning to Chris before his story even begins.
Said warning is that racism is alive and furiously kicking. Insidious whitewashed whisperings in well off gated communities with a steady supply of SPF 45 may be even more terrifying than outright, unabashed harassment and prejudice. It’s clear satire on the lifestyles of white people who consider themselves to be black allies, would never use the n-word and steadfastly idolise Obama, but manage to do more harm than good. Those who still view people of colour as Other, despite their frantic assertions that they “don’t see race”. Your parents, maybe. Or you. These people carry with them a certain arrogance, as well as an insecurity. Big-headed in believing black people will be somehow grateful for their micro rather than macro discrimination (see: the guests at the Armitage dinner party), they are at the same time clamouring for their approval, desperate to make it clear they’re not like other white people (see: Dean’s nicknaming – “my man” – of Chris). One character is quite literally blind, both when it comes to his inability to visually perceive the world around him, and towards his contribution to a racist system. It’s the people who don’t see what they’re doing who cause the most damage.
Get Out will be one of 2017’s strongest cinematic conversation pieces. There’s even been talk of it being tipped to be the second horror film to win a best picture Oscar, following 1992’s The Silence of the Lambs. Faultlessly directed, with an immensely talented cast and production and editing in a league of its own, this film may well be able to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up at the chime of a spoon in a teacup for a long, long time. I’ll say no more about that. You simply must see it for yourself.