In post-Obama America, the mistrust and suspicion of outsiders hangs heavy in the air.
Where the ‘greatest’ nation’s political climate has shifted firmly to the right, the debut film from comedian-turned-director, Jordan Peele, cannot come at a better time as a hot topic and as an exploration of a new counterculture.
Get Out is billed as a horror underpinned by the uncomfortable history of racial tensions and identity in the United States. While numerous films have used staples of tattooed neo-Nazis or hooded Ku Klux Klan henchmen, Get Out initially plays passively, with insidious racism of which has recently become popularised by the so-called ‘alt right’ movement in the US – a new brash face of racism defined by its own unabashed bigotry.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is an African-American photographer, based in a metropolitan apartment with his steady girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams) - a Caucasian twenty-something with a dizzying vibrancy about her. The crux of the film works around a similar set-up to Sidney Poitier’s Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967), where a white girlfriend invites her black boyfriend to a family get-together. However, Peele updates the formula and constructs his vision as an impressively nuanced and restrained film.
Commencing with its slow build of misspoken words or an overemphatic sentence in everyday conversation, to a fantastically realised sequence of symbolic paralysis (evocative of Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin (2014)) and reaching the sad conclusion that American society is still at odds with the multiculturalism upon which its very foundations were built.
Peele’s ability to balance subsets of society is carefully handled
Get Out has a wealth of imagery and allegory that would serve any educational essay well, as Peele’s references go beyond black versus white. The father’s declaration of ‘privilege to experience another person’s culture’ displaying his trinkets and souvenirs on the mantelpiece, as if they were trophies from a great hunt are reminders of historic European explorers colonial past. There are also the apologists who crumble under the weight of expectation, the complicit liberals who toe the line for the greater good and the forthright conservatives (Caleb Landry-Jones) who are unafraid to air their ignorant views for all to see. It’s all in there, and for the majority of the time, Peele’s ability to balance these subsets of society is carefully handled.
As a horror, the film nails its marks in gore, house-invasion and sheer lunacy in its closing section; though the real intrigue in Get Out is in its wonderful in-betweens.
Get Out plays its race cards as if it were a game of bingo.
Peele, of biracial heritage, is very aware of how his characters’ prejudices are portrayed. Rather than hero worship his lead, he allows for the seeds of doubt to be sown delicately. Initially giving Chris a flawed (his main vice being a shameful addiction to nicotine) and his seemingly unjustified paranoia, Get Out plays its race cards as if it were a game of bingo, only ever bringing them out when all signs point beyond reasonable doubt.
Casting someone of dark pigmentation in the lead is statement that flies in the face of Hollywood convention. In particular, for a story about African-American identity, where many prominent black actors have a lighter complexion coupled with bright white eyes, Kaluuya's 'blackness' is at polar opposites to the rest of the cast. Peele uses his physical attributes to infer there are unavoidable aspects of his heritage and all of them are inescapable. While some prominent actors have taken against his casting (ironically based on his birthplace), any black actor will have had some experience of real-life prejudice to bring gravitas to the central role.
The inability to see colour is played with in a blind character, hinting that one's race is deeper than mere appearance. Peele toys with the notion of 'blackness' being an identity which permeates the very essence of someone's being, beyond which you can see with a naked eye, subtly tied into Chris' job as a professional photographer.
The sequences of hypnosis can be perceived as the helplessness of black communities, indoctrinated by spoken words and suggestibility of a nation, opened up by masterful manipulators for their own villainous needs. Weave this in with the recent spate of race crimes by policing authorities (the death of Treyvon Martin, tensions in Ferguson) and Peele's apparent plot device takes on a whole level of transcendency of its own. It is this savvy subtext which sets Get Out apart from other Blaxploitation horrors.
There is an unevenness in tone towards the latter third.
Moving through the motions of its narrative, there is an unevenness in tone towards the latter third, with a poorly executed nod to black onlookers looking in, ridiculing the status quo and a denial of reality . Though clever in its knowingness, the scene plays out with a crudity which serves to dampen the pacing and allows a side-character's tempered humour to overstep the mark into territory akin to the banal humour of lowest common denominator work, oft churned out by contemporaries such as director/writer Tyler Perry. There's no denying that the levity which this bit-part brings is much-needed, but when peppered in the screenplay, it compliments as a diversion from the serious matters at hand.
It's no small feat that Peele has brought to the fore a vision chock-full of representation which doesn't hammer its point home, riffing on the qualities of horror films whilst being accessible on several levels. The appeal should be universal, and its intentions are engraved in deep recesses beneath its glib surface, sheened over for those who are not 'woke' enough to see beyond the normalisation of which it capably displays.
Get Out is unafraid to shake the system in an astute, shrewd and modest manner, facing up to the unsavoury underbelly of bigotry and splitting it wide open. A film for our times, pushing the boundaries of commercial horror in a powerfully influential direction.