Written and Directed by Jordan Peele
**** (four stars)
Late in the evening on November 4, 2008, I discovered that the America in my head was real. It was the night that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, making him the first President of African-American descent in the nation's history. As I watched the celebration in my home town of Chicago's massive Grant Park upon the television, with the sea of faces of different ethnicities, ages, and walks of life all banded together harmoniously, I felt the tenor of the world shift its moral arc towards what felt to be a greater justice and even some sense of evolution.
That being said, I was no fool lost in dreams of utopia for that kind of harmonic convergence could never arrive so easily or even that completely. For the news anchors on that night, the term "post racial" was bandied about, as if the fact that a Black man had been elected President, racism itself had been unquestionably and entirely vanquished. Upon hearing that term, I laughed to myself and said out loud to no one in particular, "Post-racial?! You kidding? It's just gonna get worse."
Never could I have ever imagined just how much worse it would become over the following eight years for President Obama and by extension, for all Black people due to the endless disrespect, obstructionism and flat out hatred from a Congress who clearly did not ever wish to work with him, and a right wing/corporate media who endlessly vilified him, all for the purpose of delegitimizing his Presidency. To that end, that vitriolic quality which flowed into and eventually emboldened his detractors within the American population took hold and grew into a more openly vocalized racism which has exploded into violence, and the continued murders of unarmed Black people by police and others.
From here birthed the Black Lives Matter movement as well as revealed a certain indifference to the point of erasure, and even intolerance, by sections of White communities, media figures, politicians and leaders ("All Lives Matter" anyone?). And so, now in the 21st century, even after eight years of having a twice elected Black President, Black people again, and still, are forced to profess and proclaim our equal humanity to a world that seemingly could not care even less, even when we are shot in the back and left to die in the streets and the killing is captured in full on a cell phone video.
Dear readers, I felt the need to open this review in this fashion because, oddly enough, I am absolutely ecstatic! After enduring the underwhelming cinematic year of 2016, 2017, on the other hand, has begun with a bang. Beginning with the resurgence of M. Night Shyamalan with his terrific thriller "Split," I now arrive at "Get Out," the debut feature film from Jordan Peele, one half of the comedic duo of Key & Peele, and what an outstanding, superbly unsettling and provocatively audacious filmmaking debut it is.
As many of you may already know, and also as you can gather from the title, "Get Out" is indeed a horror film, but it is one that has tremendously more on its mind than simple jump scares, gross out effects and graphic violence. What Jordan Peele has miraculously conceived is the brilliant merging of the horror genre with the psychological thriller and most importantly, a scathing social commentary and satire that delves straight under the skin and deeply into the turbulent heart of the persistent paranoia and fear that sits in the pit of Black life in America, and increasingly so in a so-called "post racial"/post Obama/current President Trump America. It is a wonderment to me that something of this type has not really been achieved to this level before now. But NOW is indeed the time and Jordan Peele is the one who has somehow cracked a certain inexplicable code and for my money, "Get Out," the second film of 2017 that I have seen, is already one of the best films of 2017!
"Get Out" stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington, an African American Brooklyn based photographer who is in an inter-racial relationship with his White girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), and the couple are planning to take a weekend trip to her parents estate where he and her parents can meet for the first time. Seeing as Chris is Rose's first Black boyfriend, he is uneasy with the prospect that her parents are unaware of his race, a feeling of unease that Rose bats away as she explains that her parents are not the least bit racist and even moreso, if possible, they woud have voted for Obama for a third term.
Upon arriving at the estate, and meeting Rose's parents, the neurosurgeon Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), and psychiatrist/hypno-therapist Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener), Chris formulates a trepidacious relationship, as the parents' slyly unctuous acceptance of him plus the increasingly sinister smiles of their White neighbors and the forced behaviors of the estates two Black employees, a groundskeeper (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina the maid (an absolutely chilling Betty Gabriel), all create a growing anxiety that he keeps bottled up in favor of his relationship with Rose.
As the racial undertones continue to arise, therefore increasing Chris overall paranoia over slights that may or may not be real or imagined, "Get Out" soon delves into a horrifying darkness from which there just may be no escape.
In a promotional interview leading up to the release of "Django Unchained" (2012), that film's Writer/Director Quentin Tarantino expressed to public radio host Terry Gross that he felt that genre or even exploitation films that tackled topical issues tended to ultimately be more emotionally truthful than prestige or historically based films because some films of intended prestige tended to keep the audience at arms length from the drama, as well as being overly concerned with a certain level of good taste, which also dilutes the drama and tension.
In the case of "Get Out," in conception and full presentation, Jordan Peele has made an exceptionally effective, enormously entertaining and often ingenious horror film. I do realize that I was being purposefully cagey with the plot description but that is solely because I wish for you to experience the film with as little information as possible, of course. Now, with that in mind, please note that I am not a connoisseur of horror films, so in doing a tad of research for this posting, I discovered that there actually have been some films to utilize race as a subtext within the genre, most notably a film like George A. Romero's "Night Of The Living Dead" (1968) which I actually have never seen. Yet, for "Get Out," the topic of race is no mere subtext. Race and racism is front and center, making it a film unlike anything that I have ever seen before, even while Peele smartly weaves in elements as experienced in television's "Twilight Zone" and films like Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974), Bryan Forbes "The Stepford Wives" (1975), Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" (1980) and it even made me think a little bit about Kevin Smith's "Tusk" (2014) as well.
While I could never truly know, I cannot help but to wonder if Jordan Peele's "Get Out" was in any way inspired by the classic Eddie Murphy comedy routine in which he stated that Hollywood is unable to make horror films with black casts because we, as Black people, would just know better than to remain where we clearly are not wanted, the punchline of which featured Murphy using a ghostly voice extolling the words, "GET OUT!" to which his hapless, everyman homeowner would turn to his wife and quickly say, "Too bad we can't stay."
To that end, Jordan Peele's "Get Out" is that Eddie Murphy routine made into a full length feature in which he upholds Murphy's critique while also disproving it, Peele has effectively satirized horror films in which Black characters are often the first to get slaughtered while also honoring Black audiences who have been so consistently loyal to the horror genre just by having a Black male in the leading role.
As perfectly conceived, the character of Chris Washington is one, who at all times, behaves in a fashion that you would believe someone in his situation would behave--especially those of us in the audience that happen to be Black. Therefore, this sense of realism and gravity completely undercuts any and all situations where audience members would give themselves over to yelling at the movie screen due to the stupid things characters always tend to do in horror films. In fact, everything is contained within the film's title. Why doesn't Chris just get out of the Armitage estate to begin with? Well, that is where Peele's satirical and painful commentary finds its realism and force, always ensuring that Chris does not get into and out of situations just because the script says so and otherwise there would not be a movie. On the contrary, his situation--initially--mirrors situations Black people, including myself, have found ourselves in more times than we are willing to count., which ultimately creates a certain paranoia that is a sad, simple constant of being Black in America.
Peele advances the horror of his film brilliantly by first establishing the realities of being a Black face within a predominantly White place, even when surrounded by White individuals who proclaim themselves to be liberal, thus eliciting a precarious sense of security while inadvertently or even directly making remarks and assumptions that are indeed filled with prejudices. Certainly, not the sort of exchanges we wish to expect from people who "mean well."
Just take the film's initial meeting between Chris and Rose's parents. Yes, Dean mentions that he would've voted for Obama for a third term but he also insinuates ways to somehow drop the word "boy" into the conversation on a couple of occasions, as well as some "my man" and "thang" colloquialisms, to which all Chris is able to do is to just grin and bear it for the sake of his relationship with Rose.
A later sequence when Chris is essentially on display for the White community during the annual Armitage get-together (in many ways, a sequence that extends from and is more surreal than the brilliant "Juneteenth" episode of Donald Glover's excellent television series "Atlanta"), he is still forced to endure all manner of offensive questions and comments, again for the sake of his relationship and to also not fall into the stereotype of the angry Black man or one who is seemingly "looking" for racism. If Chris were to basically "get out" at this point would possibly upend whatever standing he holds with Rose and her family, despite his own well being and even sanity. By remaining, Chris is an unwilling specimen is what Peele has effectively and eerily displayed as nothing less than a 21st century slave auction.
And even then, there is the matter of Chris' inability to forge connections with the groundskeeper and Georgina the maid. their increasingly unsettling behaviors and mannerisms notwithstanding, all of which are more reasons for Chris' paranoia to mount to the point where he is forced to even question his own sanity regarding his hosts' intentions--a paranoia which brilliantly mirrors comedian's W. Kamau Bell's blistering "How Do You Know It Was Racist?"routine.
Because of the film's perspective, "Get Out" feels like natural extension of the stinging, teeth baring satire of Writer/Director Justin Simien's "Dear White People" (2014) as well as the aforementioned Donald Glover's "Atlanta," while also existing as a feature which is wholly original in our current cinematic landscape of sequels, prequels, reboots and so on.
But the sheer inventiveness and astuteness of "Get Out" never wavers once the film flies into its final third, when everything is revealed, the impending dread of the story threatens to engulf Chris and all of us in the audience and the action itself turns especially grisly. Peele never takes his eye off of the prize so to speak as he utilizes his film to continue to play into and upend stereotypes as he has taken the everyday Black American nightmares and wrapped them up inside of an even greater Black American nightmare where themes of White envy and privilege, battles of racial supremacy, cultural appropriation, enslavement, a ferociously inventive take upon the old "Oreo" stereotype, fears and fury regarding Black male/White female relationships and a Final Solution scenario that leads to the eventual eradication of one race in favor of another are all on display and performed with sheer brilliance, skill, confidence, tension and a level of moral outrage and catharsis that I really haven't felt since "Django Unchained."
And even further, somewhat surprisingly for a film this intense, "Get Out" contains a hefty amount of laugh out loud humor and much credit must be delivered to the mighty presence of Lil Rey Howery as Chris' best friend, the TSA agent Rod Williams, who serves as the film's much appreciated comic relief, from commenting upon the action as well as serving as anon-screen representative of the audience screaming at the movie itself. I can tell you that every time he appeared upon screen, it was most welcome due to his terrifically engaging presence plus my need to take a breath from the terror.
I just wanted to add that I saw "Get Out" coincidentally on the 5th anniversary of Trayvon Martin's murder. When his murderer George Zimmerman was later found "not guilty"on July 13, 2013, I found myself afraid more than I have ever been in my life as I realized that "open season" had just been declared upon Black people. All of the murders, especially those captured on camera, that have occurred since Trayvon Martin, plus the repeals of gun access restrictions, relaxations of gun laws, the rise of Conceal and Carry laws and now White supremacists in the White House have all felt like a slow moving genocide to me, only intensifying my own paranoia, which has only grown since I have gotten older.
Growing up, I attended predominantly White schools for much of my life. I currently live in a predominantly White city. And I have worked for predominantly White businesses. And like the character of Chris Washington, I have found myself stifling myself so as to not rock the boat, as it were. I have found myself in truly wrenching professional situations with supervisors where my race was clearly the unspoken element in the room yet like Chris Washington, I questioned my own sanity as if my paranoia could not have been justified. My wife is White and like Chris Washington, I too feared meeting her parents all of those years ago when we first began dating--and to varying degrees, both of her parents (now both deceased) accepted me without issue. Her older brother on the other hand...well, it's just not worth going into as I will most likely never see him again.
All of my personal situations, emotions and experiences rose to the top while watching Jordan Peele's "Get Out," hence the length of this review as Peele, again, ingeniously places us all in the shoes of a young Black man, giving everyone the opportunity to view the world through is eyes while also serving a story that honestly works you over triumphantly.
This is really Jordan Peele's first film?! Good Lord, after this I can't wait to see what he comes up with next!!