When race issues are the real scare factor
The scariest part of Jordan Peele’s brilliant new horror movie, Get Out, is how accurately it portrays veiled liberal racism. While there is plenty of blood, enough eerie music, and jolts to make you jump, Peele never strays from his goal to shed light on how common unintentionally racist comments and appropriation of African-American culture remains in America. Peele, who wrote and directed the film, first rose to fame as one half of the sketch comedy duo Key & Peele, which employed satire, slapstick, and other types of humor to talk about American society. In Get Out he skillfully integrates comedy and horror in perfect proportion, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats while making a crucial point about racism in America.
The film follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young black photographer, on his trip upstate with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her parents for the first time. Despite his worries that her parents don’t know he’s black, she assures him that her parents aren’t racist. When they arrive, everything seems relatively normal — there are some awkward moments with her father, Dean (Bradley Whitford), when he uses traditionally black vernacular or tries excusing the presence of their black servants. After some suspicious behavior by the hired help, Chris grows concerned about her family’s true intentions. As the film escalates, several alarming discoveries unearth their malicious scheme.
What makes Get Out so powerful is that it doesn’t focus on the type of racism that is typically acknowledged and criticized — instead, the movie sheds light on the behavior of white liberals, who may mean well but are unintentionally making black people uncomfortable. This is quite prominent in the beginning of the film, before many of the horror elements are introduced. Peele wrote and shot the film in a way that highlights how seemingly innocent, if misguided, word choices are actually perceived by Chris. After Dean refers to Chris and Rose’s relationship as a “thang,” Peele shows Chris wincing slightly. Later, Dean follows his meager excuse for the black servants by stating he would have “voted for Obama for a third term,” to which Chris responds with a unenthusiastic “yeah.” While these reactions may have gone unnoticed by the liberal, supposedly well-meaning hosts, Peele explicitly shows how this appropriation and the insensitivity created a painful moment for Chris.
Get Out is not just a masterpiece for its relevant and critical social commentary — the film is expertly paced, slowly building suspense with nearly all of the action occurring in the last 25 minutes. Peele drops hints that everything is not quite as it seems, with unnerving behavior by the servants, and parents giving way to creepy but not outright villainous conduct. For example, the calculated, robotic way that the servants speak is a bit alarming, causing the viewer to become even more suspicious after the maid repeatedly unplugs Chris’ phone as it’s charging. This slow build leads to a nail-biting tension, where the audience constantly expects something to go wrong and gets more and more stressed about Chris’ safety. The numerous unsettling signs create an atmosphere that causes incredibly effective jump scares. While some horror movies tend to overuse these tactics to the point of cliche, there are only two in the first hour and twenty minutes. The sparse use of scares early makes the ending much more terrifying, so that by the time the climax begins, the audience is so wound-up that the fast-paced and dramatic events leave them clutching their armrests and sweating. However, while the finale does include several horror movie moments, Peele avoids explicitly showing most of the brutal violence onscreen and instead concentrates on major plot twists that keep the viewer wide-eyed till the end.
The movie isn’t all edge-of-the-seat thrills — the tension is periodically broken up by humor. The majority of the humor comes in scenes with Chris’ boisterous friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), who works for the TSA but likes to think of himself as a detective mastermind. He also tends to go overboard with his explanations, as is seen when Chris tells him he was hypnotized. Here, Rod worries that Chris will be turned into a sex slave for white people, which results in an odd yet funny and profane rant about Jeffrey Dahmer and his victims. The humor is well-spaced, giving the audience a chance to breathe every once in while, but not consuming the movie and taking away from the main story. Furthermore, as Howery noted himself in an interview with Vulture, Rod acts as the audience’s voice. From nearly the beginning of the film, Rod is telling Chris to not go. Even if his advice is a little misguided at first, he echoes many of the audiences concerns to Chris. The fact that the humor is concentrated in scenes with Rod also means there are no campy, one-liner attempts at humor during any of the suspenseful or action-packed sequences.
By shooting the movie from Chris’ perspective and building up the suspense so effectively, Peele creates a strong emotional attachment to Chris — so much so that the entire audience reacts together to many of the events. Aside from laughing at the jokes and jumping at some of the scary moments, there was applause at crucial moments throughout as well as when the credits rolled. During triumphant moments, moviegoers cheered and leapt from their seats; during stressful moments, many people made audible attempts to warn Chris of impending danger and talk back to other characters. The audience was so invested and stressed that they simply couldn’t hold back.