‘Get Out’ Brings the Funny But Fumbles Some of the Serious
Jordan Peele’s horror debut is an entertaining blend of laughs and dark truths.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is a twenty-something in a committed but relatively new relationship with his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), and his first real challenge is quickly approaching. She’s taking him to spend the weekend with her family, and while meeting the parents is often a hurdle in any relationship he faces an additional stress in that he’s black and she’s white. She’s guaranteed him that they’re as liberal as is humanly possible – her dad would have even voted Obama in for a third term – but he’s still nervous.
His unease only increases once they arrive and he meets Rose’s mom and dad, Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford). They’re warm and welcoming almost to a fault, but while Dean immediately goes about trying too hard to bond (“My man!”), Missy expresses an interest in getting into Chris’ head using hypnosis skills she’s perfected as a psychiatrist. The only other black people in sight, including the family’s cook and groundskeeper, are caught by Chris acting erratically and odd, and as the weekend ticks slowly by he begins to suspect that something more dangerous and ominous than awkward white people awaits.
There’s an undeniable brilliance to the setup for Jordan Peele’s feature debut, Get Out, as the writer/director pairs a genre tale heavily influenced by the likes of The Stepford Wives and certain other horror classics with a razor-sharp social commentary on race in today’s America. It’s rarely as black and white as you expect as Peele takes aim at a far more genteel form of racism than we see in hillbilly slashers and the evening news. The laughs remain even after the blood starts flowing, and while some of the thrills get lost in loud, Jason Blum-approved sound cues enough of them land with cheer-worthy precision to maintain the fun.
Where the film stumbles most though is in its third-act explanation for all that came before as it takes a tried and true genre trope and bungles it with illogical, nonsensical details.
Like horror comedies in general, satirical horror films face a constant battle with tone as they try to balance the dark and the light. There’s no perfect mix – a film doesn’t need to be equally serious and comedic – but neither side should upend the other. Without spoiling anything here, Peele’s script offers a very funny and increasingly tense build-up to a reveal and explanation that feel only half thought out. He lands his punchline, but the structural details behind it crumble beneath the slightest scrutiny – it’s as if he had his destination in mind well before he mapped out the journey. That’s not a problem for a film like Larry Cohen’s The Stuff where the satire succeeds well despite its creature-feature mentality and utterly bonkers premise, but the seriousness at play here makes the explanation integral. Peele makes his final point on progressive racism and trusts it will hit viewers hard enough that they don’t notice the severed logic. Most will comply due both to the times and to his skills as a writer/director.
It’s an issue, but it’s not nearly enough to derail the pure entertainment value and smart commentary delivered throughout. Race issues in horror run the gamut from the overt racism of Undocumented‘s antagonists to the still-powerful and unexpected kick to the chest that is the ending of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, but Peele takes a more subversive path in his targeting of a less self-aware form of racism.
Dean spearheads the embrace of stereotypical associations in his assumptions on “black” speech and interests, but it morphs into a hilariously awkward party featuring a parade of white friends visibly excited to meet Rose’s black boyfriend. Comments on his physique and assumptions that he must know Tiger Woods follow, and while there’s laughter to be had from the dialogue and Kaluuya’s reactions the underlying truth remains – good-natured and seemingly harmless intentions can sometimes be birthed from misguided and evil beginnings.
Peele does a good job slowly tightening the screws, and while he tips his hand too soon with the family’s servants the film’s first half services both the weirdness of the situation and Chris’ own prejudicial fears. How much of it is Chris’ paranoia, and how much is the possibility of some truly messed up shit about to ruin his weekend? There’s some laziness in Peele’s reliance on hypnosis, “dream” sequences, and jump scares, but the comedy, dialogue, and visceral thrills keep those bumps inconsequential. He’s aided by cinematographer Toby Oliver who builds atmosphere and eeriness out of the calm.
The cast does great work here with Whitford and LilRel Howery (as Chris’ friend and TSA employee Rod) delivering smiles every moment they’re onscreen. It’s Kaluuya’s film though as he’s front and center through most of it, and he does a beautiful job anchoring viewers in both the bigger picture of his social reality and the fears of his immediate situation. We share his hesitations, concerns, and dread with increasing intensity, and his performance leaves us that much more excited for next year’s Black Panther.
Peele’s horror debut is very much a film of the “now,” and while that relevance makes it easier to ignore (forgive?) its flaws the bottom line remains the same – Get Out is a fun time at the movies.
Related Topics: Horror