REVIEW: Get Out (2017)

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an African-American photographer, reluctantly agrees to accompany his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to her family’s country home for the weekend, in order to meet her parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford). When he arrives he finds the Armitage home staffed by black servants who behave in increasingly strange ways towards him. Before long Chris becomes paranoid that something has gone terribly wrong, and he desires to escape.

Comedian Jordan Peele makes his film directorial debut with Get Out, a superb horror film that simultaneous acts as a powerful satire of contemporary race relations in America. The film appears to have taken both audiences and critics by surprise: not only is it a rare horror film that has broken into the mainstream without sacrificing any of its genre credentials, it is also a far better and confident debut feature than I think anybody expected from a man famed for doing television sketch comedy.

Perhaps surprisingly it is Peele’s gift for comedy that pushes Get Out to the level of quality it reaches. As the horrors of Chris’ predicament become apparent – and I shall not spoil them here – they are balanced out by well-timed moments of levity. Chris’ best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) suspects something is up, and his comical efforts to warn the police are a brilliant contrast to the nightmare unfolding in the Armitage mansion.

It is exceptionally well cast, particularly when it comes to the Armitages themselves. Many members of the audience will know the actors already, including Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), Allison Williams (Girls) and Catherine Keener (The 40 Year-Old Virgin). We are used to seeing all of them as nice people. We instinctively like them when we see them. As Peele slowly urges us to distrust and even fear them, it creates a tremendously powerful effect. Also of note is Stephen Root, easily one of the USA’s most underrated contemporary actors, in a small but critical role as a blind art critic and fan of Chris’ photography.

Daniel Kaluuya is excellent as Chris, and gives the audience an easy protagonist to root for. Being the star of a horror film is harder work than it looks and he excels at it, making Chris a flawed and three-dimensional character.

Where Get Out excels the most is in how Peele – who also wrote its screenplay – tackles the issues of race relations in a post-Barack Obama America. It not only addresses preexisting institutional racism – a key early scene involving a white highway patrolman emphasizes that – but also the problem of liberal white America sometimes embracing African-American identity and culture to a near-fetishistic level. Peele sets up an underlying anxiety from the film’s first scene that actually leads the viewer to fear the experience of being black in 2017. That is no small achievement. This is not simply an effective horror film, and it is very effective indeed, it is an incisive and powerful comment on American society. That is what propels it from cool horror flick to bona-fide must-see master work.

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