The reason that horror and humor tend to go hand-in-hand is because good jokes and good thrills are both based on the same concept: timing. Jordan Peele is not someone who you would think would write a good horror film, after all he’s spent three years on Key & Peele making light of the horror genre. Instead that experience has given Peele an understanding of how to use timing to make an audience uncomfortable in just the right ways, proving that comedy and horror are two sides of the same coin, and Peele shows a knack for both in Get Out. In this film Peele shows not only an excellent sense of timing, but also how to write a great story that smartly plays into an audience’s expectations and uses them to its advantage. It also succeeds as an incisive and brilliant examination of race relations in America in a way that few films of any kind are daring enough to attempt.
When we think of a racist in America we often have a very clear idea: a redneck living in the mountains, who carries a shotgun, wears overalls, and drives around in a truck with a Confederate flag painted over the back window. Get Out doesn’t deal with that kind of racism, it has a different kind of racism in mind and it knows just where it lives: in the subconscious of America’s middle and upper-class. The story focuses on Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) who has been dating a white girl, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), for five months. Now Rose wants Chris to meet her parents in their secluded house in the woods, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), for a nice weekend in the country. The Armitage’s live in their house with their two black servants, a groundskeeper named Walter (Marcus Henderson) and a housekeeper named Georgina (Betty Gabriel). Walter and Georgina have worked in the Armitage house for years, so much so that they’ve become part of the family.
The weekend is soon interrupted by Rose’s erratic and disjointed brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), who tells Chris that he’d be a great MMA fighter if he trained due to his “genetic makeup.” It is these slightest hints of racism that permeate the film, and they are the best reflection of how racism manifests itself in modern American life, in the parts of America where we don’t talk about racism, in the suburbs. It takes the form of microaggressions and subtle questions, and Get Out captures that perfectly. Soon guests begin to arrive at the Armitage house, and gradually it becomes more clear that something is off, and that the people are just a little too nice. Peele’s best writing takes place between the first and second acts of the film when the subtle hints of racism that are there to make the audience uncomfortable make for a perfect transition into the heart-pounding elements to come. It is these moments that lead the film toward the subject of “horror” but Peele’s description of the film as a “social thriller” is very apt, there is plenty of payoff in the third act akin to a horror film, but I dare not spoil the road to it.
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut provides plenty of hope for his future on the big screen, and he has a great sense of how to build tension and only resorts to a jump scare once in the film, at a very well-chosen time. The acting across the board is excellent, in particular Kaluuya as Chris, Whitford as Dean, and most especially Lil Rel Howery who plays Chris’ friend Rod Williams. Howery provides moments of comedic relief throughout the film that never once feels out of place or detracts from the tension. They could have easily sapped energy by dragging on too long or made themselves unnecessary but instead they end up being some of the best moments in the film. Peele’s use of symbolism provides for an interesting watch at every turn, as you’re always given subtle hints of what’s to come or what’s wrong. At the same time such symbols give a reason to rewatch the film, and indeed once it’s over it’ll leave you thinking back about how it all connects. But it is Peele’s screenplay that deserves the most attention, it the mix of tension, character, and comedy that truly makes the film worth watching.
I only have some small problems with the film, namely that while most scenes with discomforting atmosphere play correctly, there are a few less than perfect moments that come off as awkward, but on a whole they do not detract from the film. There are also a couple of interesting symbols that pop up in the film at its beginning and end that are either not fully explained or simply left for the audience to think about. However, these did not take away from my enjoyment of the film and I expect that they won’t take away from yours either. Peele delivers a thorough filleting of all of the subtle racism that pervades middle and upper-class White America by focusing on small gestures and phrases to great effect. They serve a double meaning by both building tension and adding to the film’s themes. Especially interesting are small moments when they discuss “family” and one moment with an Asian-American character which you should look up after seeing the film. On the whole the film is a great experience. Get Out is a well-made, and especially well-written social thriller that knows how to play horror and comedy in good mix, and leaves room for a thoughtful dialogue afterwards.