Get Out, 2017.
Directed by Jordan Peele.
Starring Daniel Kaluyya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, LilRel Howery, Betty Gabriel, and Caleb Landry Jones.
When a young African-American man visits his white girlfriend’s family estate, he becomes ensnared in a more sinister real reason for the invitation.Now that Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, Sicario) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams, Girls), have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Missy (Catherine Keener, Captain Phillips) and Dean (Bradley Whitford, The Cabin in the Woods).At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he could have never imagined.
Forget ghosts, vampires, zombies or other supernatural shenanigans. The terror presented in Jordan Peele’s terrific new chiller Get Out is of the profoundly human kind: a deeply unnerving reflection of mankind’s frailties and exploitative qualities. In some sense, the film’s depiction of evil perhaps owes more to monster movies than at first glance: just as mythical, cautionary boogeyman tales have echoed down the centuries to terrify us, the questions posed by Get Out have similarly preoccupied us throughout the ages, only this time the horror is far more personal than the allure of fangs, tentacles and ghostly ectoplasm. Instead they’ve been replaced with the dark corners of the human psyche – and is there anything more inscrutable or troubling than those thoughts residing within our own heads?
Following his performance in Denis Villeneuve’s acclaimed drug cartel thriller Sicario, British actor Daniel Kaluuya (who sharp-eyed viewers will remember as a one time Harry Enfield/Paul Whitehouse regular) delivers another eye-catching performance as black photographer Chris, who is nervous about his upcoming meet and greet with white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents. In the first of many smart satirical beats that reveal Peele’s comedy background (he’s one half of the former hit Key & Peele partnership), Chris’ own perspective is dismissed by his other half: after all, in this day and age, what right-minded parents would fear an interracial relationship? This is just one of many ways Peele’s movie has its finger on the pulse, a witty encapsulation of the hypocrisy seen in so many news stories over the past few years, in which black persecution narratives have casually been dismissed or undermined.
Needless to say, upon arriving at Rose’s sprawling family estate (following a shocking, talismanic road kill encounter that will have profound echoes later on), all is gradually revealed to not be well. Her father Dean (Bradley Whitford) appears almost aggressive in his sense of bonhomie and can’t resist relaying a story about how his father lost out to Olympic sprinter Jesse Owens. Mother Missy (a typically superb Catherine Keener) is a therapist who appears fixated on getting Chris to undergo hypnosis and give up smoking. And hovering around the estate are the unnervingly blank personas of black housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and gardener Walter (Marcus Henderson), whose fixed smiles and robotic conversation mask a deeper horror
Peele’s terrific debut feature truly is one that can be read on multiple levels. On one level a genre mash-up revelling in influences as diverse as John Carpenter, Night of the Living Dead and The Stepford Wives, it also ambitiously holds a mirror up to the history of modern America, confronting not overt racism (that would be too easy, not to mention predictable) but a more insidious narrative of coercion and white supremacy whose legacy stretches back across the generations. To paraphrase Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill in Goodfellas, in this movie racists come with smiles, a reflection of gliberal America whose outward air of cultural sophistication is far more unsettling.
It’s also very funny, Peele never afraid to exploit the material as a twisted comedy of manners, particularly when Chris is shown off like a prize trophy to Dean and Missy’s moneyed friends (“Black is the new trend!” yells one without the slightest sense or irony). Such is Peele’s confidence behind the camera that he knows exactly when to edit on a close up for maximum social tension and dark humour, fully exploiting the incredulity felt by Chris and ensuring the movie is as witty as it is terrifying. Pleasing comic relief also comes from the great LilRey Howery as Chris’ best mate, TSA officer Rod. However rest assured, the movie doesn’t let us down when it comes to the nastiness, eventually exploding into cathartic violence whilst maintaining the integrity of its serious themes.
Superbly acted with a deliciously creepy score from Michael Abels that ingeniously mixes up Swahili vocals (another ghostly warning echoing from the past) with Bernard Herrmann-esque suspense, the movie is a treat for the intellect, gut and funny bone: 12 Years a Slave meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers, yet infinitely less glib, more ghoulishly delightful and more endlessly surprising than that description implies.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Sean Wilson is a journalist, film reviewer and soundtrack enthusiast and can be found on Twitter here.