*Very Mild Spoilers for Get Out*
Every once in a while, a horror movie comes along that checks off all my horror-movie boxes. Such a movie strikes a balance between horror and comedy, between jump scares and mounting dread, between imagination and classic genre fare, between a stand-alone story and an important social message.
Every once in a while, a horror movie comes along that knocks me back. Holds me in my seat. Grabs me by the throat.
Get Out is the most recent example of such excellent filmmaking. By now you’ve surely heard that the film has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 167 total reviews and an 83% “Universal Acclaim” rating on Metacritic. You might also have read that Get Out is a certified box office smash, grossing $111 million dollars worldwide against a budget of $4.5 million, which is 24x over its budget.
Get Out deserves every good review and every penny it earns. Movies like this make me proud to be a horror fan because they prove how the genre is positioned as uniquely challenging and entertaining art. From its technical execution, to its writing, to its casting, to its deeply relevant social criticism, Get Out will probably be one of the best movies of the year and will undoubtedly be one of the best horror movies of the decade.
There have been tons of think pieces about this film. I’m there will be tons more. This review is one. I know there are people who have explained the importance of this film with far more insight than me. But I feel like I should speak out in support of this film, for many reasons:
- Get Out is, simply, a very well-made horror film (and we don’t get enough of those);
- Get Out is a horror film that uses the genre to its full potential;
- Get Out was written, produced, and directed by a black man. It has a black protagonist. And it has found huge success in an industry that relegates black characters to largely supporting roles;
- Get Out challenges the viewer to empathize with a minority segment of the population during a time of national political and social divisiveness.
It’s the razor-sharp indictment of racism in America that makes Get Out an instant classic, a political horror movie that satirizes real-life social interactions instead of politicians. Additionally, Get Out succeeds where many have failed because it doesn’t sacrifice solid filmmaking for its social message. It was made with care, precision, and humanity.
Written, produced, and directed by Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele fame), Get Out is the story of a young man named Chris. At first, he seems to have a great life—he has a great career as a photographer, a posh New York City apartment, an adorable dog, and a pretty girlfriend, Rose. But his comfortable life has deep cracks in it. Chris and Rose are spending the weekend with Rose’s family upstate, and if that wasn’t anxiety-inducing enough, Chris is nervous that Rose’s family won’t approve of him because he’s black and Rose is white. Rose assures him that her family will love him and that they totally aren’t racist. After all, they loved Obama! Putting aside his hesitation, Chris finds the Armitage family to be polite and welcoming, if not a bit…strange. It’s the little things, like how they speak to him, how weird their domestic servants act, and other unexplained occurrences. At first, Chris tries to pass it off as rich white people being ignorant yet harmless. But soon enough Chris realizes that something is very, very wrong in the Armitage house.
First, the film itself.
The nuts and bolts are solid. It’s got a good foundation. Peele knows what he’s doing as if we didn’t already know about his talent from the hilarious and darkly witty Key & Peele.
His writing is great; tight and streamlined. It is elegant, balancing dread and heartbreak and humor. The story moves efficiently. Every scene is purposeful. Every line is paired down to the essential. Every jump scare is expertly placed to raise the tension and make the audience’s experience more sensitive. Peele is careful not to waste scenes or move too quickly through key sequences that build the audience’s empathy towards Chris. With such a strong script, the actors have proper guidance and enough freedom to craft their own characters.
And speaking of crafting roles, the acting is top notch. Peele assembled an excellent cast. Daniel Kaluuya is amazing! He plays Chris with a deft hand, at times imbuing him with confidence and self-assurance, other times with a sense of near-debilitating apprehension. If you watch closely, you can see the subtle transformations when Chris puts up his shield and prepares himself for another uncomfortable encounter. Chris was such a sad character, carrying many burdens from his personal history and the way people treat him. He seems worn by the world, yet he has fight in him. It those careful acting choices that make Chris an engrossing character.
The actors who played the Armitage Family were very good as well. They were all so creepy and fake-polite and passive aggressive that even I felt uncomfortable. It was a shock to see Bradley Whitford and Katherine Keener in such intense roles because I love them so, but they were really fun to watch. Caleb Landry Jones as Jeremy was repulsive in his entitled racism. And Allison Williams as Rose was delightful, in a terrible way. Without giving too much away, she had one of the best roles in the film and the movie would have been weaker had she not done such a good job.
As for other cast members, I just have to say that it was stunning to see these actors absolutely nail their awful, fake, and condescending tones when interacting with Chris. I don’t think I’ve seen such interactions play out on the big screen in a realistic way. It was jarring.
While the cinematography wasn’t the star, I loved the different visual styles. Peele knows his horror movies references them freely, using blurry shots of wilderness to invoke slashers before then switching to precise and Kubrick-esque shots later in the film. He has a really good eye, which isn’t a surprise considering what a film nerd he is.
And being the talented film nerd he is, Peele does an amazing job. On the whole, Get Out is focused and controlled. The plot is relatively simple and straightforward in order to let the characters and their subtle, meaning-laden interactions take centerstage. The film isn’t gory because it doesn’t have to be; Peele knows how to craft genuine suspense without resorting to cheap gimmicks. Most importantly, his deft direction allows the film to explore serious topics like helplessness, autonomy, cultural appropriation, and racial power dynamics. Peele’s instincts are well-precise, because for as thought-out as the film is, his direction allows for scary moments as well as funny ones. Somehow, Get Out doesn’t take itself too seriously.
I think this is largely due to the fact that Peele has lived through similar moments. He didn’t have to be preachy to express it. He just had to be honest.
Get Out uses empathy as its most powerful tool. In this way, the film is groundbreaking. I cannot think of a horror movie that did so successfully rooted the audience in the experience of a black man.
Now, I’m white , so I can speak only to my limited perspective, but this film was deeply uncomfortable for me because I watched a human being be harassed in ways that conjure up ugly racial constructs built upon the intersection of masculinity and blackness. And unlike movies where racism is depicted in slavery and KKK rallies, Get Out focused on perfectly “civil” and “welcoming” white people.
I try to educate myself about these racial constructs. I try to confront my privilege. I try to avoid “white feminism.” I try to keep up with the news. I try to pay attention. I know that racism isn’t a light switch, where you are either accepting of everyone or you like to burn crosses on someone’s front lawn. I recognize that I am privileged in this society. I also recognize that I’ve probably done some very ignorant things in my life, though I hope not. From simply watching Get Out’s trailer, I was forced to confront my understanding of my own limited “wokeness.”
And I was confronted with how truly insidious racism is, as presented in the film. I realized this scenario would never happen to me. If I was a guest in someone’s home and they treated me the way the Armitages treated Chris, with slyly racist comments and rude inquiries, I wouldn’t stand for it. As soon as it became clear that something was amiss, I’d do whatever necessary to leave. If they tried to stop me, I’d throw a fit. If they fought me, I’d scream and thrash. I’d make them think twice before touching me.
That’s the horror of Get Out, isn’t it?
It’s the moment where I realized that, while Chris is rightfully creeped out and scared, he’s so used to this kind of interaction that he doesn’t give credence to his own intuition. It’s the moment where I realized that a lifetime of navigating racism in all forms has conditioned Chris to put things aside, to brush off rude comments, to give these ignorant people the benefit of the doubt when they say something completely inappropriate. (Like that fucked-up conversation Chris has with Rose’s brother about fighting that veered into fetishizing violence and black male bodies? HELL NO.) Even when he starts to put the pieces together, and he experiences more aggressive and racist behavior, it’s almost as if Chris cannot bring himself to accept his suspicions. He’s been conditioned to disregard his own thoughts and emotions. Even after Rose’s mother hypnotizes him during highly nonconsensual and deeply unethical session, to say the least.
A lot of horror movies run through that tired cliche where a character remains in harm’s way despite all the signs. In a brilliant subversion of genre tropes, Get Out demonstrates that everyone understands exactly why Chris doesn’t try to escape right away.
Watching those scenes, I understood. His life and experiences have taught Chris that he stands to lose too much by asserting himself. He might be belittled, shut down, told he was being paranoid, told he was pulling the race card. Someone might gaslight him, get mad at him, turn things around on him, label him the threat. He could get in a lot of trouble. He could get hurt in many ways. Best to be quiet, to not make a fuss, and try to get through it. I recognized how it might feel like there was no other choice. I’ve seen it happen.
Rose and the Armitages are keenly aware of this dynamic and coldly exploit it.
It dawned on me that some situations are never comfortable for a black person. Certain interactions will always be harrowing and exhausting. When Chris confesses, “If there’s too many white people, I get nervous,” I saw the half-embarrassed, half-self-deprecating expression hiding his actual fear. It sounded silly to him on some level, but on a deeper level, it’s the truth.
I walked out stunned. No matter how “woke” I become, there are black people in this country whose experiences make them suspicious of people like me. Who wants to confront the fact that a huge number of people might be wary and fearful of them? Who wants to find out that they’re a potential boogeyman in the eyes of many? And that the fear isn’t misplaced, based on countless real-life events?
After reflecting on the film, I felt ashamed about how I’d assumed I was doing a good job being “woke” and educating myself. I assumed I was helping in some small but measurable way. I am an ally, aren’t I?
And then I thought, this isn’t about me. This is about the pernicious racism black people face and how deeply it affects them. Who wants to live in a place where there are countless people who might want to hurt me just because of my skin color? Who wants to live a life where boogeymen are not only real, but cleverly disguised as a wealthy, polite-but-not-really, cunning family?
I had missed the point, which was that I needed to understand that my worldview was not absolute. Regardless of what I think I’ve done to “make things better,” the whole point was that I acknowledge the perspective presented in Get Out. That I respect the message by identifying my own role apart from how I view myself.
Thus, I ask everyone, especially my white readers, to support this film. Go see it with your eyes and hearts open, with self-awareness and empathy. Pay attention to the story. Allow it to make you uncomfortable. Examine your reactions. What are you really feeling? Why?
And then be sure to share with others what you’ve learned about yourself. Too often, black people are burdened with the task of patiently explaining and defending their experiences to skeptical audiences. Their art and their voices are vital, and while white people like myself should not speak for them, we should do our part to lift up these narratives. Jordan Peele spoke, and I will amplify and bolster his voice.