Jordan Peele’s Get Out tackles the myth of a post-racial America head-on. Unlike so many horror movies, Peele chooses to have his social commentary sit out in the open, where his audience has no choice but to interact with it. And unlike so many recent horror movies, Get Out offers very little in the way of jump scares, cheap thrills, blood, and cynicism. Gore is limited primarily to the third act, and sexuality is restricted to a few uncomfortable insinuations about the physical attributes of black men and one tirade about Jeffrey Dahmer’s necrophilia. The film simply doesn’t need—and wouldn’t benefit from—copious amounts of blood and guts and breasts. Instead, Peele deftly uses the conventions of the horror genre to guide his audience through a story that tackles familiar social issues through a fresh lens. Get Out offers a great deal more closure and—dare I say—hope than most mainstream audiences are used to seeing in scary movies without having to sacrifice real fear.
The story follows a young interracial couple, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), as they make a meet-the-parents trip up to Rose’s family home. They are, more or less, average twenty-somethings; Chris is an accomplished professional photographer and Rose is professionally clueless. When Chris asks her if she’s told her parents that he’s black, Rose assures him that her parents aren’t racists and swears that her dad “would have voted for Obama for a third time if he could have.” Unsurprisingly, this does nothing to calm Chris down, and a phone call to Rod (Lil Rel Howery), his best friend, makes matters worse. He warns Chris not to “go to a white girl’s parent’s house!” The line, though hilarious, is also a naked moment of foreshadowing.
Rose’s racial cluelessness is echoed and amplified by her family’s behavior. Her parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), welcome Chris with open arms, but their behavior is stiff and awkward, even rehearsed. Dean’s discomfort is further highlighted by his unnatural use of slang—like “my man” and “thang”—and an apologetic monologue about how embarrassed he is of how it “looks” for an affluent white family to have two full-time, live-in black employees. Throughout all of this, Chris does his best to remain diplomatic, but we see his suspicions mounting the more he interacts with the Armitages’ white friends. The first two acts are uncomfortable and foreboding explicitly because of these interactions. Not because they’re overtly violent, racist, or threatening, but because they’re mundane and familiar. We’ve all either witnessed or been on the receiving end of someone’s uncle’s forced attempts to seem welcoming and non-threatening. We’ve all had that secondhand embarrassment.
These moments of benign racism, these self-congratulatory comments that amount to little more than the extended family of the “I have black friends!” defense, are what make the third act so effective. While it’s hard not to be suspicious of each and every white character—except for sweet, bland Rose—Chris encounters on the Armitage family estate, there’s nothing overtly sinister in their behavior. Ominous, perhaps, but only because we know that there is always something twisted lurking beneath the mundane. It isn’t until the climax of the movie that each interaction takes on new, terrifying meaning. During both screenings of Get Out I attended (and maybe every other horror movie I’ve seen in theaters), audience members urged Chris not to go outside, not to explore further, to turn back and run. And, later, we applauded moments of justice and retribution. Like so many characters in horror movies, Chris doesn’t really see the evil until it’s looking him in the eye. But he has a leg up: a lifetime of experience with racism, benign or otherwise, and a best friend willing to fight through the facade of white, suburban innocence.
Get Out is now playing nationwide.