FILM REVIEW: 'GET OUT' A FILM ON WHAT MY GRANDMA WARNED ME ABOUT
Written by: Devyn Springer
Get Out is that rare type of horror movie we get every few years where the laughs become more thrilling at times than the terror and suspense on the screen. From the beginning of the movie until the end, the laughs grow uneasily relatable and the punchlines remain recognizable because this movie is able to use comedy – something writer and director Jordan Peele is very familiar with – to blend the typical horror flick with spot-on social commentary.
The film’s plot in its simplest form is reminiscent of many typical horror movies you’d expect to see in theatres: one weekend with a girlfriend’s family goes terribly wrong when you realize they’re criminally vile. However, it is within Peele’s politicization of this common plot and the plot twists that an intriguing piece of film exists.
From the very introduction of the characters, we are introduced to a Black man with fear that is filled with a relatable complexity and depth, a fear that we are not used to seeing portrayed in popular film. The decision to portray a feeling of genuine fear in a Black man (Chris, the main character played intensely by Daniel Kaluuya) is an intentional and artistically political decision, one that shows Chris’ fear of going to stay with the family of girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) as a rational and concise emotion. Often in horror movies, we see a flattened and unnuanced fear projected onto Black bodies, and Peele positions Chris to step in and disrupt this common motif.
It is important to note that this film doesn’t simply draw on racism as a plot device; it draws on the historical context of racism at which we’ve arrived in 2017. It uses the mechanisms of whiteness, which are violently upheld, to progress into a plot filled with commentary both subtle and overt that plays with the idea of a Black man’s suspicions towards white people’s racism being eventually confirmed. By showing Chris hesitant and slightly fearful of his initial interactions with Rose’s white family acknowledges that his hesitancy, and the larger hesitancy that many Black men can relate to, is built on a historical context and knowledge; a material evidence of violence on the Black body in the sphere of interactions with white women.
While watching the film I was reminded of how just last month Carolyn Bryant, the woman who accused Emmett Till of whistling at her and caused his highly publicized brutal murder in 1955, admitted that the entire accusations against Emmett were fabricated. I couldn’t help imagining how this story might have loomed in the mind of Chris, alongside the history of violence against Black men (see: lynching) on behalf of protecting the mythified sanctity of white women. These histories are commonly passed down in the Black community through stories told at family cookouts and not always saved for the pages of Ida B. Wells.
I thought about my own existence in relation to the social commentary being made and the historical context being drawn upon. As a Black queer man, someone socialized into a waning masculinity, I think about the times my friends and I have crossed a sidewalk to avoid a white woman. I think of the conversation surrounding dating a white person I’ve had within my friends circles, and I think of the way Audre Lorde describes “white women who shared the terms of their oppressions,” and how similarly this statement synthesizes with the precautions and red flags my friends have presented in relation to dating white people in general.
For Peele to use the situation of dating to mount this conversation is interesting because interracial dating remains a controversial topic backed by decades of anecdotal and academic conversations surrounding it. And that is what kept this film as well as Peele’s directorial debut intriguing; he spearheads subjects with no shyness and no stumbling in delivery. Even by using Rose’s mother Missy (played by two-time Academy Award nominee Catherine Keener) as a psychiatrist who uses hypnosis to do evil to Black people is symbolic in itself. Could the hypnosis represent the numbed and overly-forgiving state in which several Black people find themselves – whether in an attempt to appeal to whiteness or by falling into respectability for the sake of dating a white person – and the devastating effects that state of mind can have? Could the hypnosis be a haunting metaphor for the epistemic violence of “color-blindness?”
It is particularly rare that a horror film has the ability to make the audience leave in such an introspective state. The tools Peele uses to manifest this socio-political introspection surrounding race, history and dating are simple: intentional dialog, great acting, and a plot that allows the twists to naturally arrive at themselves. An example of this is the beautifully cyclical placement of the title of the film, Get Out. The title tells you everything you need to know on several different levels, while the plot exists to reinforce said title. The words “get out” exist both as an omen and a reminder, a foreshadowing and a flashback.
As previously mentioned, the laughs become uneasily relatable, especially with the use of a certain “I voted for President Obama” joke that comes close to growing tired in the film. That, as well as an extended scene in which where we see all of the white party guests eager to talk to Chris and ask him questions that most Black people are familiar with. It is during this scene that the viewer has to decide whether to laugh at the familiar racism or sigh in an uncomfortable scold – , and in the theater you could audibly hear the difference in reaction.
The laughs in the film never feel cheap or begged for, and always seem to come from an almost satirical disrespect for the realities in the way of our society. The plot begins to feel predictable at times, and fresh dialog and twists make it anything but. It explores the suburbs, whiteness, scientific racism, and the violence that comes with the culmination of those things.
A particularly chilling scene takes places a little over halfway through the film, one that caused a strong reaction in the crowded theater. Understandably growing tired of the thinly veiled white liberal racism surrounding him at the party, Chris decides he needs a break from the people around him, and this leads to Rose accompanying him on a walk through the woods while the white guests remain at the house to play “bingo.” In a distinctly manipulative gesture, Rose pretends to understand his frustration with the racism at the party while also presenting herself as upset that he wants to leave. While this scene plays out, we are shown that the game of “bingo” is actually a silent auction, and what they are auctioning off is Chris himself. As the auction prices rise into the thousands of dollars, the viewer is allowed to connect several dots from all across the film in one perfectly directed moment.
The film is not without flaws, but what few flaws I garnered felt irrelevant or unnecessary by the end of the film. A scene involving Chris, Rose and a police officer felt forced and uncontrolled within the context of the film at first, but when I later was allowed to understand it in the context of Rose’s character development, it made the scene subvert to appreciated. There is an undeniable utilization of racial anxiety throughout the film, and at times it borders on exploitative of the racial trauma Black people have historically experienced, but he walks the line masterfully by carefully placing this anxiety within a larger intentionality within the film.
Get Out is not just a movie which attempts to paint a picture using the brushes and colors of horror cinema. It is not interested in simply telling a story; rather it re-appropriates and re-engages the entire genre in an innovative way. By conjuring the real historical fear that Black people often feel, from slavery, to lynching, to Jim Crow, Peele was able to create something much more than your typical horror film. He was able to give us a piece of work that set the standards high for other creators in the genre, who will now have to be more intentional, fresh, and politically aware about the inspirations they draw from.