Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener
Running time: 103 minutes
How many times over the years has an enticing trailer dropped for a horror film that promises the next profoundly shocking, terrifying, and thought-provoking cinema-going experience, but ultimately leaves us with an underwhelming, unremarkable, lazy found-footage taste in the mouth? Well, fear not folks – or in this case fear lots – because Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, is funny, unnerving, totally enthralling, and just really, really good.
As photographer Chris (Kaluuya) and girlfriend Rose (Williams) prepare for a weekend trip to her folks so he can finally be introduced, Chris is concerned by the fact she hasn’t told them he’s black. After an overly friendly welcome upon arrival, and a few awkward dinner chats, it appears that something very sinister is at play. Meet the parents this is, but Meet the Parents this really ain’t…
When it comes to horror movie PR, less is certainly more. If you haven’t yet seen the trailer for Get Out, don’t. This is because Peele’s film is a dish best served without any defrosting whatsoever. Yes, at first glance, one might just see Get Out as that scary film about black people and racism; but, in truth, it is so much more than that. Peele’s film is social satire at its most uncomfortably hilarious and frightening best, and a lesson in how horror can – and really should – be done.
Chris’ fear is an inherently universal one – the mere thought of meeting your partner’s parents for the very first time is enough to set those palpitations off – however, it is made all the more poignant and intriguing by the fact he is black and they are white. It’s a predicament that has obvious historical as well as current social relevance. For both Chris and us as viewers, such a meeting is made substantially more uncomfortable by the creepy over-friendliness of Rose’s parents (played with unnerving nuance by Whitford and Keener) who – noted on more than one occasion – would have voted for Obama for a third term if they could. That, combined with the odd demeanour of the family’s party guests, the early, seemingly throwaway comment of “black mould” growing in the cellar, and the drinking of black tea bring about a truly unsettling juxtaposition of African American appreciation and racial tension. Given Peele’s masterfully patient eye for building eerie atmosphere, it’s no surprise that almost instantly, it is upon Chris’ shoulders that we firmly place our loyalty and trust – and even more so when the two other African American characters, groundskeeper Walter and housemaid Georgina, begin exhibiting strange behaviour in the early hours.
Anyone remotely fluent in the language of horror film will know the typical lifespan of black characters in these types of films doesn’t bode well for our protagonist, but Peele’s tactic, while far from original, is a far cray from what we’ve been accustomed to of late through a welcomed resurrection of the slow, brooding dread that worked so effectively in David Robert Mitchell’s brilliant It Follows.
There’s little gore here, and very few jump scares. No, Peele doesn’t stoop to the levels of cheap genre party tricks and waves of the red stuff; instead, there’s an altogether more layered, meaningful and intelligent nightmare at work here. There are no backward country rednecks to be found, only white middle-class liberals; there is a central character with real exposition and maybe a few skeletons in his closet; and there is social satire at play that never ever feels preachy or manipulative. There’s even an animal death early on – the equivalent of the creepy gas station attendant warning our naïve, unbeknownst protagonists to turn back – that goes beyond a simple foreboding jump scare to manifest itself as something of true narrative relevance and symbolism.
The nature of true horror is taking the mundane and making it utterly terrifying. In the case of Get Out, never has bone china, a teaspoon, and bingo been so unnerving. And, doing what Insidious did for Tiny Tim’s Tiptoe Through the Tulips, Peele’s film surely succeeds in making Flanagan and Allen’s Run, Rabbit, Run sinister for all of time. But as is often said, comedy is only a few doors down from horror, and Get Out expertly juggles seriously dark themes with moments of brilliant humour – almost exclusively thanks to the ramblings of Chris’ loveable best bud, Rod (Lil Rey Howery).
The cast all do stellar work here, but the real star is without question the man holding the camera and penning the script. Taken from the slogan for the United Negro College Fund, the film’s tagline, “A Mind is a terrible thing to waste”, is certainly indicative of Peele’s measured approach here by giving us a film that really makes us think. Perfectly paced and constructed, there is never a feeling that a character is there solely to be bumped off for shock value. Yes, Peele might be asking us to suspend all manner of plausibility at times, and the film’s third act feels a little careless and silly, but Peele and his bold creation certainly earn their moment of madness, and the results are all the better for it.
As directorial debuts go, Get Out is mightily impressive. As 2017 releases so far go, Get Out is certainly up there. As mainstream American horror films of the last 10 years go, Get Out is one of the very, very best. It’s a rare and thoroughly enjoyable blend of comedy, horror, and ideas that stretch beyond the parameters of a camera frame. Yes, the trailer may have spawned the Get Out running challenge, but the real challenge here is keeping your nails intact and palms sweat-free throughout.