GET OUT (2017)
Directed by: Jordan Peele
The Plot: A gorgeous white girl (Allison Williams) takes her handsome new boyfriend (Daniel Kaluuya) to meet her parents (Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford) at their posh country estate. There are issues of course. He’s African American and they aren’t. Also, in this part of the country all of the black people dress and behave…. white. Something malevolent is afoot rest assured.
The Film: Forgive me for writing the most dichotomous film review of my career, but few movies are as coercive in their endeavor to founder the film media betwixt principle and merit as Jordan Peele’s horror film Get Out does. On one hand Get Out is incendiary and noxious and everything good horror movies represent. On the other hand, it’s just not a good horror movie by any genre standard. It carries none of the restraint, the uber-hygienic disquiet, nor the startling disclosures of its thematic forebearer, Bryan Forbes’ The Stepford Wives.
Get Out is an interesting experiment in provocation and satire surreptitiously forwarded to the public under a most nonprovocative title. And if we can credit the filmmaker a pair of brass balls for anything, it is for his initiative to fly a horror film like this one out into the social tinderbox we call a political climate in 2017. Demography is certainly a dangerous power source to tap into. Kudos to those with the (and I’m treading on the thinnest ice here) acceptable skin tone and sense of humor to plug into it.
Jordon Peele is taking on much with his first directorial feature film. A film built around an admittedly anorexic premise. (Young black man from the city visits white girlfriend’s seemingly accepting parents in the country and learns that diabolical deeds may be afoot) This is stretched sketch comedy, masquerading as a feature horror film. While a litany of talented filmmakers first cut their teeth in the horror genre (Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Curtis Hanson) I doubt any would have tackled the charged subject matter Jordan Peele does in his inaugural feature.
Here lieth the interracial minefield few white filmmakers outside of Mel Brooks and Quentin Tarantino dare wander into.
Peele is absolutely aware that minority status grants him a free pass to crank stereotypes up past eleven. And he does so giddily. There’s a scene in the film where Allison William’s blue eyed bombshell Rose is sifting through an NCAA Draft catalog for perspective dating candidates – all muscular, tall, and dark skinned – sipping a glass of white milk (2% I’m guessing – to represent her family’s economic tier) listening to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. It’s cheeky and cute and comfortably reverse-racist. When we meet her father, Dean Armitage, (Horror film got the blues? Just add a dash of Bradley Whitford) he reminds his daughter’s boyfriend that if he could have, he would have voted for Barack Obama a third time. Making his tony financial situation and racial insensitivities perfectly unobjectionable.
Jordan Peele also understands that you can take a fairly uncomplicated horror premise and that by injecting race into it you suddenly and quite effortlessly have a very complex, very volatile cocktail on your hands. Some would say it’s a shortcut to relevancy. Others would say it’s a way to bulletproof your film against serious criticism from the brittle crackers in the entertainment media. Others would applaud the daring of putting their biggest racial foibles on the silver screen to confront American audiences with. I believe there’s a hint of truth in all three accusations.
Get Out is both novel and novelty act. It puts tokenism front and center, proudly lampooning the discomforts of interracial rapport. And yet we can never escape the sinking feeling that everything about Peele’s script is token. His lens filters out all real color save black and white. The only source of vibrancy in the movie coming from comedian Lil Rel Howery’s TSA agent Rod Williams – and believe me, I’d argue that this character warrants a visit to this film all on his own. He’s easily Get Out’s strongest player – one that argues the case that Get Out makes a better piece of comedy/satirism than it ever will a “scary movie.” The film itself seems unable to make up its mind on where its allegiances lie. Political satire? Horror? Comedy? In an indie horror movie about losing one’s identity it seems ironic that Get Out struggles to find its own.
Because the horror genre allows certain liberties against propriety right out of the box – and indeed liberties against nearly any and all serious evaluation of the work – Jordan Peele is allowed to play with subjects like anglophobia, internalized hot-button issues like how African American women feel about their men dating white girls, the black fear of having their identities smothered out – in this film, quite literally – by the pressures of residing in white utopia, good old-fashioned 4Chan cuckoldery, and enough incidental racism to pad an expensive racial and ethnics politics course at Cal-Berkley.
And yet by conclusion, when you break this movie down to its cellular level, you can’t really ignore that the underlying thesis is that wealthy white devils will use their voodoo – namely pricey doctorates in neurology and psychiatry – to ensnare and enslave middle class black folks, (who, in this film, are cast as artists, labor drones, and TSA agents) purely for their physical abilities and sexual prowess. Which is, by definition I suppose, a horror movie.
This particular horror movie certainly takes its time getting to the payoff, and fortunately Get Out does coalesce into something more appropriately considered horror – meaning blood is poured out. At that point the violence is simply there to service the dehydration of the audience. A group of people driven to near-fanatical bloodthirst by seventy minutes of unchecked racial prodding, and precious few thrills, spills, and chills.
By the final act we’re well past the real terrors in Get Out. The terrors of an outdoor Summer social where ancient blanched socialites fawn over and paw young Chris Washington, much like the plantation aristocracy did during purchasing visits to the Shockoe Bottom slave markets of mid 1800’s Virginia. Much as elderly white NFL franchise presidents do when browsing new stock at the annual NFL scouting combine to this day. The references are easily enough to connect, and their implications are indeed frightening. The film however, is much more difficult to connect with. At least from this demographic.
Which may have been the point of this exercise.
The Verdict: One of the most bizarro, hyper-reflective moments I’ve had doing this job was sitting in my cushy press-only theater seats, (the best seats for film screenings are always reserved for the dignitaries in the press) with the rest of the cultivated stock of film critics – predominantly white – watching a film as deliberately racially charged as Get Out certainly aspires to be, with an audience of mostly African American viewers surrounding media base camp, sitting in whatever seats they could scrabble together after waiting in line for a few hours. My pale-skinned media brothers and sisters mostly stout-of-purpose liberals and generous with their leftist appeals and ideals, truly identifying with Peele’s mixed messages on race mixing and seemingly enjoying the picture, while the black crowd around them yelled out to the film “DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR!”while intermittently blurting celebratory cheers whenever the villain whites fell under the retaliatory brutality of Daniel Kaluuya’s victim of white privilege. There were moments for me, placid offspring of the Anglo-American blue collar, when the irony of the antics onscreen and the real-world deluxe theater position I was embedded in toggled between terrifying truth and troubling fiction – where Get Out took on another form of horror altogether. I felt very, very white. I also felt very, very privileged to have good seats – seats I can assure you I worked very hard to secure. Get Out is a coercive film, bordering on coercion. And it is provocative. I’m still not convinced it’s very good.