Were it not for the opening scene, in which a young, black man, alone at night in a dark suburbia, is assaulted by an armour-clad figure and dragged into a white car to the vintage strains of Flanagan and Allen’s ‘Run Rabbit Run’, Get Out might easily have been a comedy. On paper, the film marks the directorial debut of Jordan Peele – the man who wrote and headlined last year’s action-comedy Keanu – its stars include the comedic talents of Allison Williams (Girls) and Stephen Root (Dodgeball, Finding Dory), and it has a plot reminiscent of Greg Glienna’s Meet the Parents. Ba dum and, of course, tish. Do not, however, be fooled. Whilst Get Out is undoubtedly a feature with some genuine belly laughs, they’re laughs that come with a distinctly nasty sting.
Segueing from ‘Run Rabbit Run’ to Donald Glover’s RnB ‘Redbone’, via some effectively chilling strings, in an early example of Peele’s employment of jarring music to emphasise social disjunctions, the plot opens with Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) preparing to meet the parents of his girlfriend, Rose (Williams). For many, this is surely a point in a relationship quite horrifying enough thank you very much; yet, in these early moments, Peele begins to sow the seeds of the heightened anxieties to follow. Chris is Rose’s first black boyfriend – a fact which seems straight forward enough until viewers remember that 2017s Beauty and the Beast will be the first live action Disney film ever to feature an interracial kiss. ‘Seems like something you might want to mention’ as Chris puts it. Indeed it is this paranoia, quietly and quickly building, that allows Get Out to crawl under the skin; once there, it’s not for budging.
En route to Rose’s parents a deer leaps out before their car to its unfortunate death; it’s the film’s first blood and, though at first it may seem like a cheap jump scare, it’s a tragedy that underlies much of the plot. ‘I do not like the deer’ says Rose’s father Dean (Bradley Whitford), ‘they’re taking over, they’re like rats’. Again, such a line may appear innocent enough but as parallels are drawn between the death of the deer and Chris’ own childhood loss of his mother in a hit and run, such a statement chills. See how this works? We’re told that this is a man who ‘would’ve voted for Obama a third term’, he’s got a Jesse Owens picture on the wall and hates how it must look that he has two black ‘servants’. However, there’s black mould in the basement too. It all feels too intense to be coincidental, or is this just paranoia? With today’s society being one increasingly tied to self-interest at the expense of other cultures and races, it’s satire that plays close to the bone. We’re not racist, but…get out.
Once properly introduced, Chris is of course subject to inevitable familial niceties but there’s an underlying tension through it all. It’s an uneasiness that’s by no means helped by the arrival of Rose’s suitably creepy, and more than a little unhinged, brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). There’s something not quite right about Georgina and Walter, the housemaid and gardner, either. Note how these two are the only non-incidental characters given no surname; semantically stripped of their humanity, they act like they’ve just stepped off the set of The Stepford Wives and feel threateningly passive as black subjects. The false pleasantries of these early scenes develop further with the arrival of the family’s friends for a garden party. That the friends turn up in a procession of black cars grants the whole thing a deeply macabre air. Each guest, all bar one pearl white (the one being another queerly performative young black man), is likewise dressed more appropriately for a funeral than fete, visualising the deliciously dark motifs already captured by the film’s score and script.
Terror twists more tangibly, certainly more surreally, when Chris is hypnotised by Dean’s psychotherapist, and black tea stirring, wife Missy (Catherine Keener) before being sent into ‘the sunken place’. I’ll spoil nothing more but if you’re still under the impression that all is as it seems by this point in the film, you’ve been stuck in ‘the sunken place’ since the opening titles.
When Robert Eggers made his directorial-debut last year with The Witch, it was hard to believe that it was possible to make such an assured first feature, especially in the notoriously difficult to crack horror genre, but he did it. Well, now he’s not alone. Sure, Get Out’s got some weaknesses, the start’s a touch slow and first half that could’ve been tighter, but on the whole Get Out makes for a marvellous starting shot from Peele. The film’s plot is an intricate beast, keeping its audience in the dark whilst hiding clues amongst well crafted dialogue; it’s one that will pay dividends with repeat viewings. Kaluuya is probably best known for his role in Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario but fans of the British series Psychoville will know that he’s no stranger to comedy cast with the darkest hues. Here his is a solid performance amongst a great ensemble cast, also including Lil Rel Howery, provider of the primary comic relief.
Peele may be a newbie in the production of horror, but his film very much knows its ancestry with thematic and atmospheric call backs to classics like Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man, The Shining and many more. Get Out’s no imitation piece though; it may speak in the vocabulary of its predecessors but it does so in a language that feels refreshingly new. Stick with the slow bubbling because Get Out has the most thrilling final act of any film I’ve seen in years.
The most valuable review I can impart here comes not from me but the friend of mine sat to my right in the screening. Roughly thirty minutes into the film, this friend leaned over and whispered, in the most respectfully quiet way so as to disturb none in the cinema: ‘I’ve got sweaty palms…look how sweaty my palms are!’