Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, LilRel Howery, Caleb Landry Jones, Betty Gabriel, Marcus Henderson, Keith Stanfield, Stephen Root
MPAA Rating: (for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references)
Running Time: 1:43
Release Date: 2/24/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 23, 2017
Writer/director Jordan Peele's Get Out is a daring and auspicious directorial debut. It's a horror film, although to classify it as one seems too limiting in regards to the film's purpose and accomplishments. In fact, it feels like a bit of a cop-out when Peele's screenplay decides upon a fairly routine, horror-centric path during the climax in order to resolve its conflict. The turn doesn't undo everything that has come before it, but one can't help but feel disappointed that Peele doesn't take this material to its logical end.
It doesn't matter too much, though, because what is here is a subversive and sardonic look at modern race relations, as seen through the lens of a pretty standard horror-movie setup. Peele's screenplay is perceptive in the way it addresses a veneer of apparent racial harmony as a means of disguising more sinister ideas. Its targets aren't obvious, either. The setting may be an almost plantation-like estate somewhere in the South, but it's populated by characters whose views on race appear—at least at a cursory glance—to be enlightened. The patriarch of the home even proudly announces that, if he had the chance, he would have voted for Barack Obama for a third term.
That information is fodder for conversation, sure, but it takes on a different meaning in the context of a father's conversation with his daughter's boyfriend. It has an even greater significance when one takes into account the fact that the boyfriend is black, and it sure as hell means something when it's an issue the father rather awkwardly inserts into conversation within the first ten minutes of meeting said boyfriend. At that point, it's not conversation. It's an announcement—of the father's more-than-tolerant levels of acceptance, of his ability to see a "post-racial" world, of, essentially, his liberal bona fides. It's not for the boyfriend's benefit that the girlfriend's dear old dad says it. It's for his own.
This is the kind of observation that Peele sneaks in throughout the film, without making a big deal of any of it. He opens the story with an ordinary scene that turns chilling pretty quickly. An African-American man (Keith Stanfield) is walking down a suburban sidewalk, uncertain of where he's going. A car pulls up behind him, and this man—and the audience—knows that such a scene—of a black man walking where suburbanites might believe he doesn't belong—can have and has had a terrible outcome. It's a brief but potent introduction to what Peele does with the rest of the film—establishing a reason for suspicion, laughing it off, confirming those suspicions, and forcing us to deal with the consequences.
The central story follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a city-living photographer whose girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams, who really shines as her character's loyalties are solidified) is bringing him home to meet her parents. After a brief scare on the road involving a deer and a cop who might be crossing a prejudicial line, Chris meets her father Dean (Bradley Whitford) and mother Missy (Catherine Keener).
They both seem nice enough, although Missy and Rose have to keep apologizing for her husband's enthusiasm. He drops, "My man," a few too many times for comfort. For his part, Dean has to apologize for the optics of his house staff—the always-smiling Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson)—who, yes, are both black but who worked for his parents and whom he really would have felt bad about firing. Everything about Dean basically screams, "I'm a good guy and totally not racist in the slightest."
That's a reason for suspicion. So, too, is Missy's insistence that she help Chris quit smoking through hypnosis. As for Rose's young brother (Caleb Landry Jones), he seems to have strange obsessions with fighting Chris—just for "play," of course—and pointing out something about the "genetic makeup" of his sister's new beau. It's also the weekend of the family's annual get-together with neighbors and friends, and they are all reflections of Dean's need to show off their tolerance ("I know Tiger," one neighbor, a former pro golfer, makes sure to tell Chris).
For a long stretch, the film doesn't even play as horror, save for a relatively early scene in which Missy displays her hypnosis skills (This sequence not only is precisely abstract—imagining a "sunken place" in which Chris helplessly watches the world as if through a television screen, akin to the defining trauma of his life—but also sets up a rationale for an otherwise bad decision he makes late in the story). It's primarily a comedy, featuring a finely tuned perception of the strange ways in which race still defines social interactions. Even the film's most shocking moment, in which the party turns into a pantomime of an old and disgraceful practice, is something of a punch line—a demented joke, yes, but also an audacious one. It helps there's something of a running commentary on the absurdity of the plot from Chris' best friend, a conspiracy-minded TSA agent played by a scene-stealing LilRel Howery (whose delivery of one line is so perfect that it's a shame the film doesn't end with it).
Peele takes his satire right to the edge of condemnation, and perhaps it's for the best that Get Out doesn't take the leap (The motives behind what's happening at the house ultimately have little, if anything, to do with race). Still, considering how well Peele handles the thorny issues that are present here, one can't help but wonder what the filmmaker could have mined if he had taken the leap. If anything, that response is certainly a sign of a promising debut.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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