*Warning: Potential Spoilers*
Ever since trailers first started appearing in October, Get Out has been intriguing as both a potentially good horror film (which is sadly hard to find in the found-footage fascination of today’s horror films) and eerily timely, given the current political climate and several escalating events over the past few years. If you were to look at Get Out as any other horror film, you would probably laugh at how ridiculous it is. But doing that would do both you and the film a great disservice, because it means that you aren’t appreciating the true horror of what you are watching. This isn’t a horror movie like Paranormal Activity (2007) or The Purge (2013) (for one thing, Get Out is actually good), and even though those have drawn huge crowds of “horror-fans”, they are not the films that truly know what it means to inspire fear.
Chris Washington (the up-and-coming Daniel Kaluuya) is an African American photographer who is traveling upstate to meet the parents of his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams, a discount Kate Mara if I’ve ever seen one) for the first time. He worries about how he will be received, since he is the first black man Rose has ever dated, but Rose assures him that “my dad would’ve voted for Obama a third term if he could’ve.” Chris’ friend Rod (the comedy of the film, LiRel Howery) jokes that meeting a white girl’s parents is a bad idea, but Chris brushes it off. At first, Dean and Catherine Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) are open and welcoming to Chris, but he begins to feel out of place and wary of the home, especially after Catherine (a trained psychologist) puts him in a hypnotic trance to help him quit smoking. Rose and Chris are talked into staying for the neighborhood party the next day, where Chris feels even more unsettled and uncomfortable, and it soon becomes clear that there is something not quite right with the people who’ve invited him to their home.
One of the great things about Get Out is that, at face value, it’s an absolutely ridiculous premise of a movie. When you get to the end in particular you kind of want to laugh at how silly it sounds. If it weren’t for the racist undertones, it wouldn’t work at all. But that’s the genius of Get Out – it works for all the reasons that it shouldn’t. Most films like for you to identify with the main character, of course, so Get Out employs many subtle nudges to its audience to make the entire viewing experience uncomfortable for them, no matter who is watching. First-time director Jordan Peele taps into several resources to make you shift nervously in your seat – the shots are taken in such a way that you always feel a little claustrophobic, and there are details in the script and dialogue that make you both roll your eyes and tilt your head in confusion. The feeling of discomfort is particularly apparent during all of Chris’ interactions with Dean. Every word out of Dean’s mouth sounds like it was rehearsed a thousand times because he didn’t want to sound racist (indeed, because he’s not racist *dripping with sarcasm*) but he wants it to be very clear that he’s not racist, and everything he says has to prove it.
The real horror of this film does not lie in jump scares or found footage, like most of the “scary” movies that rule the box office. No, this film thrives on pure paranoia – the feeling that you know something is about to happen, even though you don’t know when and you don’t know what, and the longer you wait for it the more frightening it is. The brilliant thing about Peele’s use of paranoia is that most characters in horror films thrive on the paranoia anyway – the ones who try to explain that something supernatural is happening but can’t, or who know that something is going on around them that they can’t quite explain and no one believes them. Kaluuya likened this to racism himself, and this pushes a movie that would have just been a little off-putting into real uncomfortable fear. It also works in the sense that something Chris does just doesn’t connect with anyone in the house – not expressing his concerns to Rose, who laughs them off, and not to Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson), the African American housekeeper and groundskeeper who live with the Armitages, but don’t seem to be “all there” – so that Chris always seems like an outsider, even with people he hoped to feel comfortable with.
Not everything about this movie is great, of course. Williams’ performance is a little wooden – her attempts to make Chris feel at ease with himself are written as a joke, and they fall flat. For instance, when Chris suggests that Walter has a crush on her, she teases “So you think I’ve got a chance then?” as if she wants to put him at ease and assure him that she doesn’t want anyone else. Not only does this not make Chris feel better, but the audience just raises their eyebrows, wondering if that’s really all she’s going to do. Given what she’s trying to do, it doesn’t go a long way in helping Williams establish her character as someone believable, and it certainly doesn’t make us feel any more connected to her as a character. Then the character Jeremy Armitage (Caleb Landry Jones) is introduced, Rose’s brother, and he is just…weird. Having not been featured in any of the promotional material (as most of the other main characters were) his entire being seems out of place and thrown in at the last minute for another off-putting presence. Unfortunately, he acts so ridiculous that it almost drags you out of the movie, wondering why this guy is even around. Of course, you could that up to the idea that the audience supposed to feel uncomfortable all the time, and therefore we shouldn’t feel at ease with these characters, but it almost doesn’t feel intentional with either of them.
So if you’re looking for conventional horror, Get Out won’t be the film you were looking for. It’s frightening in a way that is more real, and even harder to put your finger on than a ghost slamming a door or a killer jumping out of a closet with a chainsaw. No matter who you are as an audience member, you will identify with the paranoia Chris feels (ever been in a room and been sure that everyone’s talking about you? In this case, they all are. And pointing. And judging.), but at the same time get the feeling of “polite” racism directed at you, giving you new insight into how stories you hear on the news actually feel to experience. Get Out will make you laugh, but wonder if it appropriate to be laughing. You’ll feel uncomfortable, but not be able to put your finger on exactly why. You’ll be tense, and you’ll wonder whether or not it’s ever be able to relax. This is not conventional horror – this is realistic horror, and it is why it’s frightening.
4.5 / 5
There are so many great things about this film, little details that you’re not going to notice the first time through, but thinking about them, every single moment and action in the film is there for a reason, and the reason is usually jaw-dropping. If you’re not opposed to checking some of these out (and aren’t afraid of spoilers) click here and here.