By Nathan Evans
I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that horror is one of my least favorite genres when it comes to film. It seems that nowadays they come in one of two flavors: splatter fests, which only disgust/bore me, or shock fests with thin plots that rely on tiresome jump scares to get a rise out of an audience. Very rarely do we get a horror film that actually has something to say. Jordon Peele, of Comedy Central’s ‘Key & Peele’, has delivered one of those films with his directorial debut, ‘Get Out’.
‘Get Out’ stars talented English actor Daniel Kaluuya (who you may remember from ‘Fifteen Million Merits’, the best episode of BBC’s horror anthology ‘Black Mirror’) as Chris Washington; an African-American, New York City photographer living with his caucasian girlfriend, Rose Armitage (portrayed by HBO’s ‘Girls’ actress Allison Williams in her first cinematic role). We catch up with Chris and Rose as they embark on a road trip to an affluent remote suburb that’ll culminate in Chris meeting Rose’s parents for the first time. As anyone would be, Chris is uneasy about meeting his potential in-laws, but he’s especially concerned since they aren’t aware of the color of his skin. At Rose’s assurance (“My father would’ve voted for Obama a third time if he could’ve.”), the pair set off.
When they arrive, things appear to go smoothly, but it’s not long before Chris realizes something is off. The family’s African-American servants behave oddly, the family seems incapable of making a statement without a racial undercurrent, and Rose’s father, Dean (the always welcome Bradley Whitford), and her psychologist/ hypnotist mother, Missy (the charming Catherine Keener), seem a little too eager to analyze Chris. Couple that with the arrival of Rose’s creepy and aggressive brother, Jeremy (‘X-Men: First Class’’ Caleb Landry Jones) and it’s not long before the trip unravels and we discover what’s really going on at the Armitage estate. I won’t spoil the plot any further than that, but I do think it’s safe to say that things don’t get better from there.
I really didn’t expect a film of this caliber from Peele. When I saw the initial promotional material for the film, it seemed ridiculous and unfocused; like it didn’t know what it wanted to be. Like many great comedians before him, Peele proved me wrong by crossing over into a foreign genre and showing the rest of us how it’s done. Rather than falling into one of the two camps I outlined previously, ‘Get Out’ returns to the roots of horror/ thriller films; to the days of the ‘Twilight Zone’ where a creative uses the genre to make a social statement. In this case, a comment on our current racial climate; an important subject no matter where you fall in Trump’s America.
Fortunately, Peele is intelligent and talented enough to realize he can’t be too self serious if he wants to get his point across, and he wisely injects the film with a humorous sensibility. It’s a much needed flourish in a film this tense. Responsible for much of that relief is comedian Lil Rel Howery who portrays Chris’ best friend/ TSA agent, Rod. All the while Chris is away, Rod uses his elite TSA training to investigate the goings on with the Armitage’s. His hilarious theories shock with their accuracy and represent the typical perspective of an audience member in a horror film.
Peele is obviously familiar with the genre, and while he uses Howery to comment on it, he’s also sure to subvert it every chance he gets. This is the first horror/ thriller in a long time where I didn’t know what was going to happen next. Just when I thought I had a handle on it, Peele would throw a curveball to keep things fresh.
While ‘Get Out’ is no doubt an impressive debut, it does have its flaws. As with most things this ambitious, not every plot point holds water when you think about it. I can’t go into detail without spoiling the film, but there’s a thread that is almost entirely extraneous and a couple of others that don’t add up. It’s nothing plot breaking thankfully, and the film is entertaining enough that you probably won’t notice while you’re in the theater, but they’re there all the same.
Also there are issues with Chris’ characterization; mainly that there’s not much there. As previously stated, Kaluuya is an emerging talent to watch, but we don’t really ever get to know much about him other than a tragic story from his past. While the exploitation of that tragedy is effective (and provides a lot of the film’s unsettling, haunting imagery), there’s not really a sense of the character other than that. It wasn’t until the middle of the film that I even realized he was a professional photographer. Almost every other major character in the film is fleshed out more than he is; even TSA Rod.
With that aside, ‘Get Out’ is smart, scary, and fun enough that you ultimately won’t care about its shortcomings. It’s a perfect genre film and a breath of fresh air for horror. Peele has blown me away with his debut, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
RATING: 4.75 OUT OF 5