What is a horror film supposed to do? Scare you? Thrill you? Chill you? All of the above? Probably, but what you rarely expect a horror film to do is question your own outlook on the world. It is therefore with great delight that Jordan Peele’s debut feature Get Out heralds the arrival of a talent way beyond his more widely known comedic work. Not since The Night Of The Living Dead, and much, much more potentially, has a film tackled issues of race the way Get Out does.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is heading off for the weekend to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the first time. Upon arrival at the family house Daniel meets mum Missy (Catherine Keener) and dad Dean (Bradley Whitford) who proudly declares he would have voted for Obama for a third term had he been allowed. Having settled in, Chris begins to realise that him being black might seem like no big deal to Rose’s family but they look, talk and treat him with a level of cliche that feels skin crawling uncomfortable. What’s more, the only other black people in the vicinity work for the family and display extremely unusual behaviour.
What Peele has created with Get Out is nothing short of a jaw-droppingly potent essay on the way America, and arguably the world, address race. In an era where we need to be told that Black Lives Matter here is a film that doesn’t just feel relevant, it feels smack you in the face important. Because what Peele has done is take the issue of race and hold up a darkly disturbing, often funny and horrifyingly accurate mirror to us all.
The film starts smart, Chris is a photographer who specialises in, you guessed it, black and white photography. From there Get Out plants seeds in your conscious to make you address how you perceive colour. It then slides slowly through the gears of Chris asking “do your parents know I’m black”. That question in itself is wonderfully double-edged. Is it racist of Chris to ask, is it part of the racism he’s experienced that he has to ask that and what does it say about a world where such a question should ever need to be asked? It’s in this simple, throw-away moment that Get Out sums up its point to one simple truth. Whether you’re aware of it or not, we all see the world in black and white.
By the time Chris is the lone, mentally sound, black person in the room amid a sea of almost baying eyes of the white people, you will be both asked to squirm with discomfort, laugh with irony, cower in fear and cringe in the terrifying truths on offer. Peele isn’t just a master of writing a powerful story it seems, his visuals etch themselves into your conscience. A scene in which Chris discusses the family with black groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) is shot in such tight close-ups it will have your skin crawling, such is the intimacy you’re being asked to share with these characters who, despite their backgrounds, are clearly worlds apart.
Allison Williams does a pitch perfect job of playing the cutesy, all too embarrassed by her family girl next door. Channeling a Jennifer Connelly look and delivery towards the end she really comes to the fore and demonstrates genuine range far beyond what she’s achieved in previous work. Whitford and Keener are typically brilliant, almost nonchalant in their performances so effortless do they make them feel. But the film rest comfortably, and Atlas like, upon Brit Daniel Kaluuya’s shoulders. It is through his smartly judged and never hysterical paranoia and rising dread that the true horror of the film is felt. Rarely in horror films do your connect with a protagonist as powerfully as Chris and that is in no small part thanks to Kaluuya’s mesmerising performance.
Towards the end some may feel it ever so slightly undermines it’s wrecking ball premise but it’s hard not to wonder if Peele has intentionally let some of his audience members breath a little easy. Nonetheless Get Out is a slap in the face awakening for all of us and a piece of cinema that does more through its horror premise to address racism than any Oscar worthy film could dream of. Get Out and go see Get Out.