You could say that the arrival of Get Out, the horror-movie debut from Jordan Peele, is perfect timing. But to be honest, Get Out could have been released at any point in human history and its message would resonate loud and clear. If you’re not white, you’re on borrowed time.
There’s a certain kind of insidious racism that can too easily go unnoticed. It’s the racism that comes from being white, liberal and harbouring an assumption that racism isn’t that big of a deal anymore. It’s this lack of understanding that can lead people to counter every mention of Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter.” A phrase that, at best, comes off as misguided and uneducated, and at worst, duplicitously racist. More than 26o black people were killed by police in the USA during 2016 and black Americans are 2.5 times more likely than white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers. It’s as deadly to be black in America as it’s ever been, and with a White House staffed by white supremacists, there’s a very real danger of racism being legitimised through legislation.
This is the current reality that Get Out has been unleashed upon. It’s a film that comments on both the complicity of white liberals who have let racism spread through ignorance, and the systematic brutality of racism passed down through the generations.
And this is before I’ve even mentioned the fact that Get Out is also a wildly entertaining thriller, filled with incredible performances, neat homages to classic horror movies (The Shining, Halloween, The Stepford Wives) and hysterically funny moments that bizarrely never feel out-of-step. It’s both a slap in the face telling us all to wake up and one of the best satirical horror films ever made.
Professional photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya from the Black Mirror episode Fifteen Million Merits) heads out to the country with his white girlfriend Rose (Alison Williams from Girls) to meet her parents. Chris is nervous; Rose hasn’t revealed to the family that she’s bringing home her black boyfriend, and although Chris is warmly received by the family – his wariness turns into paranoia when conversation moves beyond the awkwardly ingratiating (“I’d have voted for Obama for a third term”) to the hostile – Chris is warned by an oddly incognisant black guest to “get out” while he can.
I won’t reveal too much about Get Out beyond the set-up, it’s a film that’s best enjoyed with as little information as possible. There’s a satisfying puzzle at its core, the narrative is delicately constructed, foreshadowing is subtly implied and the pay-offs are both unique and cleverly orchestrated.
Get Out is also truly scary, but in the very best ‘tension-wringing air of dread’ manner of all the greatest horrors. This is thanks to some meticulous direction from Jordan Peele. Although he may have a background in sketch comedy, Peele suffuses the film with moments of suffocating disquiet (the ‘sunken place’ is particularly gruelling) and exquisitely delivered shocks. Peele takes a few cues from other contemporary horror masterpieces – the artfulness of David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, the grounded humour of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next and the claustrophobia of Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation – but he’s created something entirely unique with a menace of its own.
The performances are excellent across-the-board. Daniel Kaluuya builds convincingly from withering acceptance to cathartic rage, with the anguish from his backstory permanently bubbling underneath. Unfortunately any more comments about the rest of the brilliant cast would spoil the film too much – but I will say the subtle ‘tells’ of the other black residents who Chris encounters are unnervingly eerie. The soundtrack also adds another layer of satire – the use of a classic Dirty Dancing track while a character drinks white milk and eats dry fruit loops is hilariously arch. While at other times the soundtrack acts as a warning. Childish Gambino’s ‘Redbone’, played during the opening credits, encourages the listener to “stay woke,” and Michael Abels’ score contains a Swahili passage which translates to “something bad is coming, run.”
Peele covers a damning breadth of experience when it comes to racism, from the fear a black man feels walking alone through a white neighbourhood and the expectation of police harassment, to the more surreptitious prejudices of everyday life. Throughout Chris’s encounters with Rose’s family and friends, we witness the reductive tendencies of white people who, in trying not to be racist, just end up being racist anyway – name checking Tiger Woods, repeatedly referring to Chris as “my man,” asking if it’s “true what they say” about sex with a black man.
The true horror of Get Out lies in the complacency of white liberality. In the solipsistic belief that everything must be fine because we can’t see beyond the surface of our own bubble. As Jordan Peele stated in a recent interview, the genesis for the film came about “when Obama was elected and there was this sentiment that we can stop talking about race now because we’ve just solved the problem.” With Get Out, Peele makes us realise that by ending that conversation, we’ve only helped perpetuate racism further and the ultimate price we’ve paid is currently sat in the White House. 5/5