Have you ever stopped to think why so many horror films feature empty houses, creepy little girls and/or screechy violins? The answer is simple: in order to scare you, horror films have to first make sure you’re ill-at-ease, and these staples of the genre are all well-proven in their ability to unsettle an audience. Get Out mines relatively fresh ground in its attempts to unnerve its audience, simultaneously functioning as a comedy, a thriller, and a satire on race relations in a “post-racial”, post-Obama America.
The premise is this: Chris and Rose have been dating for about five months, and decide to head upstate to visit her parents for the weekend so he can meet them for the first time. Chris is black, and Rose is white — but Rose assures Chris this won’t be a problem, as her dad “would’ve voted for Obama for a third time if he could”. Yet the family are almost too liberal, too accommodating: every interaction seems to bury racial micro-aggressions three layers deep in subtext, and something about the family feels…off.
The audience are keyed into the racial themes throughout the film’s setup, from the refreshingly on-the-nose dialogue about race between Rose and Chris as they plan their trip, to a fantastic, bitingly satirical exchange between the couple and a cop they meet on the road to their destination. This foundation is crucial to making the film work; only by footing itself in tangible, real-world racial politics can the film afford to take such big swings later on.
Make no mistake: the film’s racial politics will unsettle you. Chris’s interactions with well-meaning, upper-class white folks begin to make you draw uncomfortable parallels with your own views. Is it racist to meet a black guy and immediately start talking about how much you love Tiger Woods? What about a white guy referring to a black guy as “my man”, as a term of endearment?
Get Out, astonishingly, is a directorial debut from Jordan Peele, one half of sketch duo Key and Peele (their stuff is worth a YouTube if you’re not familiar). Peele also wrote the film himself, and displays an astonishing command of the material in terms of tone and story structure, and wrangles brilliant performances out of his cast. Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams, as Chris and Rose, are especially noteworthy, but the whole cast do incredible work in their respective roles.
Get Out is excellently restrained for much of its running time, favouring a slow-burning sense of tension to cheap jump scares. The least restrained element of the film is Chris’s friend Rod, the only explicitly comic character, who is rung periodically for advice and beautifully punctures the building tension with barbed needles of levity.
Perhaps the film’s finest achievement is its successful juggling of complex themes and wildly disparate tones in ways that make individual moments feel earned rather than spurious, and help Get Out feel fresh even when it descends into more regular genre territory. It’s a biting satire, an entertaining comedy, a gripping thriller and an unsettling horror, and when you consider that many movies don’t even manage to get one of these things right, the genius of this film is thrown into even starker relief. This is a modern classic of the genre: Get Out, and go and see it.