It isn’t often that I’m lost for words after seeing a film. It’s an entirely different point to immediately begin a repeat watching of a film after that initial viewing. Both descriptors fit here for Jordan Peele‘s directing debut, Get Out. When a high profile comedian such as Peele tries his hand in a new arena, especially as is the case here with horror, it’s enough to justifiably raise attention. When it speaks on such a profound level on the very issues we face today between the headlines and throughout our culture, it is worth great discussion. However, the core of this film is best experienced without much of the pretense that I could offer here in a review. Spoilers on some level are unavoidable in film review, and that is a bridge I don’t wish to cross for my readers. So, while this will be brief and admittedly vague compared to most of my reviews, I can’t overstate the impression it made on me as a viewer.
All one needs to know going in to this film is that Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is dating Rose (Allison Williams). The bi-racial couple have yet to meet her family, but they make the trip one weekend, and it turns out to be during a larger gathering than they initially planned to be a part of. Not only are her parents (Bradley Whitford & Catherine Keener) and brother (Caleb Landry Jones) there, but as Chris meets more and more people, he has reason to believe something isn’t right about it all. While this sounds like it could very well be the basis for an old Twilight Zone episode, it is more than just some riff on the familiar. Obviously, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner comes to mind, but let’s just say it goes beyond anything said or done there. Get Out contains multiple levels of symbolism (mostly subtle…mostly) and clever plays on horror tropes that give this film not only uniqueness, but it elevates the entire film into a realm of serious consideration and conversation. Oscar talk surrounding the film months after its theatrical release doesn’t surprise me at all.
For myself, the film builds to a moment near the end that encapsulates things that no CNN headline or editorial on the topic of race could ever convey. Paired with the opening scene, the bookends of this film spoke to me, a Caucasian man, powerfully about the male African-American experience, and I openly admit that the ending shook me to the core. This reaction isn’t the “BOO! Got You!” thrills that are commonly used in such films; no, this feeling I was given was much more than that: a feeling of understanding that disturbed me about how things are. While at the end of the day, one could see this entire film as merely a clever riff on horror, there is more to it all than that. Peele‘s comedic sensibilities shine through in his writing and pacing. He gives humor in the right amount, exactly when it is needed to alleviate the pervasive (and necessary) dread. There are a few jump scares that feel conditional to the trappings of the film’s genre, but the violence here always feels appropriate to the story being told. This isn’t the “gorefest” that has become equated to modern horror. The nerve this film is aiming for requires much more nuance, and Peele, wearing many, many hats here, hits every note that is necessary with finesse. The overall effect is much more haunting than any ghost could ever be.
The cast is incredible, yet highlighting why gives too much away. I would have loved to have witnessed Daniel Kaluuya meeting with the director prior to filming, because Chris is brought to life here in a way that I can’t imagine anyone else doing so. His eyes are a central point here, and Kaluuya hypnotizes the audience throughout. There isn’t a bad actor in the bunch here. Everything is portrayed here with such confidence that the entire film feels like a gut-punch. Nothing is wasted here, as it all feels necessary. This isn’t an easy watch, but most easily-watched don’t say much either. The subtextual critique and imagery here goes on for days! A colleague of mine who reviewed the film as well has talked with me at length about it, and we only admittedly only skimmed the surface. Few films in recent memory necessitate that kind of reaction especially in the horror genre, and judging from the box-office returns on its relatively small budget, I take it that those discussions will continue for some time into the future for Get Out.
From a content perspective, I must stress that this is an R-rated film, with harsh language, crude comments, intense sense, and visceral acts of violence. Coming at the topic of race within this genre was inevitably going to give the film a harder edge, but any reading this with content concerns should know going in that this is a rough ride. The topic of race is something that is sadly often bypassed or pushed past in churches, and this film goes right for that topic in creative ways. While the actions of the film (covetousness, surprisingly, at the core) and their resolutions presented may not echo Scripture as things we should follow, they highlight that there is still great work for us to do in the area of race relations today. My thoughts have always been that if the church refuses to talk about something, that never means that the world will stop alongside. Sometimes, gaining challenging views through art or whatever means si the best way to approach important subjects in our lives. While I believe that churches and Christians should do a better job of discussing and healing race relations, their effects permeate our culture, and this film reacts to all of that.
All that said, the film shares perspectives that I believe only a film like this can share; that makes it worthy of consideration and contemplation. Learning challenges us, and progress in understanding always has push back; this film definitely challenges and pushes buttons. It reminds me of the overall merit of film as a medium, specifically, to tell tales that only can be shared when a writer/director has a unique vision and message to deliver to an audience. This film isn’t entertainment just for entertainment’s sake (although, it does do that). It has something worthy to say, and this film rewards repeat viewings. Classic horror that has made waves often did so with a message and a uniqueness, and for the past several years, the genre has suffered as a result of forgetting that. Making the most of his shoestring budget, George Romero was saying something about society with his instillation of the fear of zombies and their mirroring of the populace; John Carpenter was pushing back against the supposed safety of suburbia with Michael Myers. Sam Raimi pushed audiences and blurred genre lines to their max with his Evil Dead films. Jordan Peele joins such names with Get Out, as he brings something worthy to the table regarding race and cultural appropriation, and it won’t easily be forgotten by me or any one who sees it.