Get Out begins in familiar horror territory. A young, black man is walking to a friend’s house at night, and an unseen person in a car pursues them. The young man, seriously scared, turns around and walks the other way. He is snatched by the pursuer, rendered unconscious, thrown into a car and taken away. We’ve seen this kind of cold open before, a million times over, but there’s a racial subtext to Get Out that elevates the horror into a sickening reality… much of the horror of Get Out is based on average, everyday fears and a fact of life of what it’s like to be a black man in America. In any other movie, seeing the red and blue flash of a police siren would bring hope, but in this movie, it has a gut-wrenching implication to it.
Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris, a young black man, aspiring photographer, who is going to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family for the first time. He asks her if she’s told her folks that he’s black. She says she hasn’t, but tells him not to worry. They’re not like that. They’re certainly not racists.
Things begin to get strange very quickly for Daniel. Rose’s parents (played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) are nice enough people, but there’s something off about them. They have two hired hands, both black, who just seem a little bit off. Rose’s father brings it up to Chris, and expresses the self-awareness to know how weird it must look, but to realize they’re valued help and that there is no racism to it. Chris accepts this, but is still a bit leery. Things get stranger yet when Rose’s weird brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) shows up. And then there’s a party where everyone in attendance is white and expresses much interest in Chris’s blackness. And the only other black man at the party has a perpetually terrified smile on his face the entire time. And there’s the hypnotism that Rose’s mom performs on Chris that he thinks was all a dream, until he realizes it was all too real.
Even though the plot is a bit predictable, I wouldn’t dare spoil any of the reveals in this review. Half of the fun of movies like Get Out is trying to guess what comes next. Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong. The movie seems aware of a lot of tropes and intentionally subverts expectations based on what we’ve all seen a million times—or it blasts us with an image of what happens all too often in the news.
Get Out is a great vehicle for actors. It’s very character-oriented and you get to see a lot of very good performances from the excellent supporting cast. Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford are, of course, great. They always are. Caleb Landry Jones, the brother, is either a gifted actor or an annoying, awful person. I can’t tell which. Daniel Kaluuya does great in the lead. His facial expressions are subtle, but they say a lot about the character. He has a world-wariness to him that a lesser movie wouldn’t have had—a lesser movie would have had him shocked whenever someone would say something strange, but here he just kind of smirks, as if it’s something he’s heard a million times before (which he probably has). My only complaint of the cast is that Stephen Root doesn’t have enough to do. Stephen Root is a great character actor, and he’s perfectly fine here, but when you see him pop up in something, you kind of want to see him do something amazing and that he doesn’t is just a bit of a letdown. It’s like bringing out a massive fireworks display and only lighting off a couple of bottle rockets.
LilRel Howery as Chris’s friend Rob is the kind of character that can destroy a horror movie. When the focus shifts to him, there’s a complete tonal whiplash effect. It goes from horror to comedy. Think of the bumbling cops that had no place in a movie as twisted as The Last House on the Left. Somehow, against all odds, Get Out pulls it off. Rather than being “comic relief” he’s more like a release valve. The character is legitimately funny, which makes all the difference.
The movie is written and directed by Jordan Peele, who is probably best known for his work in the second half of the comedy duo Key & Peele, and for last year’s Keanu. Get Out is, first and foremost, a horror movie. An expertly-made one, at that. It is also funny, political, satirical and everything else a horror movie should be, but make no mistake, Get Out is no parody. It’s a legitimate horror movie and its intention is to scare audiences. Everything else is part of its rich tapestry of storytelling that makes it richer, fuller, and easier to appreciate as a work of art. Would Get Out have worked if it wasn’t so overtly political? I’m sure it would have, but to wish for such an apolitical film with no statement would be to neuter the beauty and the power of it. Simply put, if you’re looking for a horror movie that doesn’t try to challenge you outside of your comfort zone, maybe it’s not right for you.