‘Get Out’: Guess who’s getting into danger in Peele’s nearly perfect horror film debut
Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is a devilish little bit of social commentary that takes the essence of “Guess Who’s Coming to Diner” and forces it, with vehemence but also panache, into a “Wicker Man”/“Stepford Wives” construct. The result is something clearly borrowed, incredibly fresh and nearly perfect in light of the current political climate. What’s also remarkable is that the horror flick-cum-black comedy marks Peele’s directorial debut, and a surprising one at that – not only because it is so sharp and confident, but also because Mr. Peele is better known as half of the comedy team of Key and Peele on Comedy Central.
The setup’s simple enough. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an aspiring photog, agrees reluctantly to meet the parents of his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams of “Girls”), whom he’s been dating for five months – just long enough to have to take these things seriously.
“Do they know I’m black?” Chris asks, a question that the lily-white Rose shrugs off, telling him that her dad would have voted for a Obama for a third time if he had the chance. It’s a pointed little barb, but since “Get Out” started filming long before it played at Sundance in January, I’m not certain Peele understood the whole political backdrop he’d be facing. Given the results of the election, the daggers the film throws couldn’t be any more on point.
Once out in the remote ’burbs, where everything feels just a little off, Chris meets the overly welcoming Armitages (played with just the right amount of camp by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford). Mom’s a shrink who specializes in hypnosis, and dad’s a neurosurgeon. During a guided tour of the family manse, dad not only tells Chris about that Obama vote, but also that his father ran against Jesse Owens in the Olympics. The Armitages seem to not notice Chris’ skin color and yet talk about everything black around him. Then there’s the hulking greenskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and maternal housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), both black and often frozen in a zombielike trance when not smiling and nodding in humble servitude.
Something’s clearly not right, but then there’s the big party to commemorate grandpa Armitage where all the denizens from around the lake show up in black limos – a few with their own zombified black companions – and make merry and play bingo. Clues drop as to what’s going on, the words of the film’s title are mentioned and Chris knows he’s next (aptly, the film feels something like Adam Wingard’s effective 2011 chiller, “You’re Next”). As you can imagine, getting out isn’t so easy – something to do with a cup of tea and eternal youth.
“Why black people?” someone asks. The answer isn’t so much racist in justification, though the practice clearly is, and harkens back to slavery and good-natured slave-owners who treat their property “humanely.” It’s also a fantastic statement of the ongoing racial divide that still faces the country, and more so, post-Obama. All this wrapped up in a horror flick from a comedian and put out by Blumhouse Films, responsible for “The Visit,” “The Green Inferno” and the “Paranormal Activity” films. “Get Out” delivers the indie-auteur styling of a mumblecore-horror flick with the subversive social satire of Spike Lee. Not to be missed.
Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.