Review by Eric Hillis
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones
Reductively speaking, there are two general types of bigotry. There's the obvious, hate-filled, aggressive kind, which we've seen portrayed by tobacco-chewing Southern stereotypes in plenty of Hollywood movies. But just as prevalent but less acknowledged is the racism of liberals who over-compensate in the presence of minorities in a desperate and patronising attempt to disprove their prejudice (you might even see examples of this in some of the rave reviews for this very movie). We rarely see this addressed in cinema - Ruben Ostlund's Swedish drama Play is the only example that immediately springs to mind - but in his directorial debut, Jordan Peele tackles this issue head on.
Following a prologue in which a black man is abducted by a masked assailant while lost at night in a suburban area, we meet inter-racial Brooklyn couple Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams). They're off to meet the latter's parents, who Rose assures Chris "aren't racist."
Upon arrival at the estate home of Mummy Missy (Catherine Keener) and Daddy Dean (Bradley Whitford, unrecognisable from his West Wing days), Chris immediately becomes uncomfortable, as Dean seems unable to have a conversation that doesn't revolve around his blackness - "I would have voted for Obama for a third time!" There are other black faces present, but only among the servants, who all seem to have been lobotomised. As the weekend progresses, Chris begins to realise something sinister is afoot.
As a satire on racial relations, Get Out is something we haven't seen before, at least not in mainstream American cinema (this year's The Bye Bye Man tackles the same issue, but only if you're attuned to its subtleties), and it gets by on this refreshing take, but only to a point. The satire is never quite as sharp and angry as you feel it should be, possibly because no Hollywood studio wants to make white audiences too uncomfortable, and the comedy doesn't quite land, because while it's poking fun at white ignorance, this is still something that's no laughing matter if you're on the receiving end.
Around its mid-point, Get Out morphs into a full-on horror movie, and it's here that the film falls flat to a large degree. Peele relies too heavily on genre cliches - ironic use of music, a portentous car accident involving an animal, the protagonist making an implausibly dumb decision in order to set up the climax - and the big reveal is offered in the laziest fashion, with the hero strapped to a chair and forced to watch a video that conveniently explains the plot.
Any dread Peele evokes comes in the early sequences, simply from the racial and class divide. When the movie enters stalk and slash territory, it's all too obvious Get Out isn't helmed by someone comfortable working in the horror genre, and it's only in the final moments that we're cleverly reminded of the film's central theme. It's said that African-Americans make up the majority of the audience for horror movies in the US, so hopefully Get Out's US box office success will open the door for black filmmakers that understand the genre more deeply than Peele. Were I to praise his film, it would be an act of performative wokeness of the most transparent kind.
Get Out is in UK/ROI cinemas March 17th.