It’s time to meet the parents. Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) have been dating for months. The plan is to leave the city and visit Rose’s parents so they can meet Chris for the first time. As he packs his bags, Rose asks Chris if he has his “cozy clothes” along. Chris stops to ask her nervously, “Do they know that I’m black?” Rose, who is white, playfully responds with a challenge: “Should they?” She continues to tease him, slyly suggesting he is guilty of reverse racism. Finally, Rose assures Chris that her parents are not at all racist. In fact, her father would have voted for Obama a third time if he could have.
When Chris arrives at the comfortable—and isolated—estate of Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford) Armitage, he is warmly received. Dean makes typical “dad jokes,” along with a questionable attempt at sounding black. Chris shrugs the comments off, glad for the hospitality.
But Chris is definitely put off by “the help.” The Armitages employ two African-Americans: Georgina (Betty Gabriel) works in the kitchen, and Walter (Marcus Henderson) in the garden. Dean, a liberal-minded neurosurgeon, admits it looks bad, but explains that Georgina and Walter used to care for his parents and they have been kept on at the house. When Chris interacts with Georgina and Walter, however, they act strangely, as if something is not quite right.
Already well-known for his work in the sketch comedy duo Key and Peele, Jordan Peele has made a striking debut as a writer-director in Get Out. Currently, the website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 99 percent approval rating, based on 224 reviews. Made for under 5 million dollars, the film has already grossed over $150 million worldwide.
The film’s success is tied principally to its clever use of the horror-suspense genre to critique race relations in the U.S. To avoid revealing more of the plot, I will only indicate that the film offers both a playful satire of white interactions with blacks as well as a bold condemnation of white appropriation of black culture and even being.
While billed as a horror film, I found Get Out has more in common with thrillers in the Alfred Hitchcock vein. Peele builds suspense from side-long looks, a comment about a sealed-off basement, or the evidence of a cell phone, mysteriously unplugged. Chris wonders if he is indeed in danger or just being paranoid. A few bars of creepy music or a face that fills the screen completely warn us that something is about to happen to Chris. We know more than Chris, but not enough to know what will happen.
Chris examines the odd world around him with his digital camera and (sign of the times) his cell phone camera, with results more surprising than James Stewart’s snooping in Hitchcock’s Rear Window. In fact, Get Out owes a great deal to comically creepy contemporary films such as Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich. It is perhaps no coincidence that Catherine Keener has a prominent role in both films—here she plays a psychiatrist with a penchant for hypnosis and swirling teaspoons.
After all the suspense spiced with comedy, horror definitely happens. Blood spurts in scenes of violence that are definitely not for children, nor for all adult viewers.
That warning aside, Peele uses horror film clichés to argue a greater horror—that we are far from living in a “post-racial” society, and that reconciliation between whites and blacks, despite all the years that separate us from the end of slavery, is far from complete. For that reason and challenge, Get Out is definitely a movie to watch and discuss—that is, if you can keep your eyes on the screen. (Universal)
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