Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Betty Gabriel, Marcus Henderson, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root
Director: Jordan Peele
Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
If race is merely a social construct perpetuated by ideology, then writer-director Jordan Peele's bold, genre-hopping debut feature, Get Out, reveals the insidious nature of said ideology when applied to elite liberal racism. The villains here aren't gun-toting, Confederate flag-waving Trump supporters pounding beers while hollering bigoted slurs, but rather, WASP-y, Obama-voting whites who mouth progressive sound bites while harboring an innate fear of black people. This makes Peele's film, which smartly frames itself as a horror-comedy, something of a miracle; a dead-eyed satire about white upstate liberals who are obsessed with the idea of blackness as long as they can subdue and control it.
The story follows couple Chris and Rose (Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams) as they travel to visit Rose's parents Dean and Missy (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) in upstate New York. While on their way, there's a sudden collision with a stray deer, followed by a run-in with a white cop (who asks Chris for his i.d. even though he wasn't behind the wheel), and Peele presents both encounters as part of the same brutal paradigm of racial oppression. In a sense, the injured deer is emblematic of Chris's tragic past regarding his mother, but it can also be read as a representation of the expendable life tossed aside to die somewhere in the woods, face down, like so many fatally wounded black men. In terms of the cop (who may or may not have bigoted intentions), Peele uses the scenario as a springboard for examining the idea of racial solidarity, wherein the noble white girlfriend steps in and defends the mistreated black boyfriend, hereby occupying a "safe space" mentality so prevalent in our current political climate. This seemingly throwaway scene is humorous as well as deeply disturbing, encapsulating the film's overall conceit; that a hideous, nearly unsuspecting form of racism is buried beneath polite gestures, outstretched hands, and placid smiles.
Once the couple arrives at the Armitage home, it's immediately apparent that something is off; with the estate eerily resembling a Plantation and the sight of stoic black servants (Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson) milling about. Racial tensions escalate quickly, exacerbated by Dean's overly pleasant demeanor and patronizing uses of "my man" and "thang" as he gives Chris an unsolicited tour of the house. Meanwhile, Rose's brother (Caleb Landry Jones, auditioning for the 2017 "up to something" award) shows up and drunkenly challenges Chris to a mock MMA-inspired fight at the dinner table. If all of this weren't off-putting enough, we learn that an annual gathering will be taking place at the Armitage estate, which involves throngs of old rich whites driving up to the grounds in their fancy limos. Sideways glances, condescending Tiger Woods references, and ogling of Chris's physical makeup ensue, and all the while, there's a creeping sensation that something more purely evil is going on here beyond oblivious white privilege.
From a filmmaking standpoint, Peele shows genuine auteurist sensibilities by deftly balancing comedy, drama, satire, and horror elements without ever losing control of the tone. During one late sequence involving an old fashioned TV set, there are shades of David Fincher's The Game, while at other moments, Peele actually conjures surrealist imagery straight out of Jonathan Glazer's masterpiece Under the Skin. In fact, Get Out is so successful at maintaining a mood of impending dread and discomfort that it's ultimately a bit of a letdown when things slide into more standard horror fare during the last 20 minutes. Once the twist regarding the central conceit is revealed, Peele unspools a predictably unhinged climax, but he also seems unsure of how far he wants to take the violence and if the form of justice dished out here is more of an implication of the audience rather than a traditionally satisfying conclusion.
Despite such flaws, however, Peele's incisive ideas regarding the abuse of black lives, liberal elites as another incarnation of white supremacy, and the ways in which we are all culpable in fashioning these narratives, is powerful enough to circumvent the screenplay's purposeful limitations. More than anything, Get Out proves that an intellectually probing look at 21st-Century racism can be funny, disarming, outrageous, frightening, and perhaps most disturbing of all, all too familiar.