Directed by Jordan Peele
There is a genre of film that was unique to the 70s. They were lumped in with horror but they were so much more. Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives, Race With The Devil, The Omen, The Exorcist. They burned slow, the tension always building, building, building. They rarely had jump scares, rarely any gore. They weren't traditionally scary. They took their time, patiently tapping away at the lizard part of our brain where true fear lives. Unnerving us without us ever being aware of how or why we were becoming so unhinged. They crawled under your skin and took up residence, but slowly, so casually and gracefully you were never sure when they moved in but there they were, tickling our subconscious with fears we rarely bring up in polite conversation. Fears of parenthood, of suburbia, of neighbours. Fears of children, of the elderly. Fears of the different and fears of conformity.
There's nothing wrong with a good traditional horror film. They're like a walk through a haunted house, all the creaks and footsteps on the ceiling and monsters hiding behind closet doors, it's all good fun. But for my money, the sweet spot is the psychological horror film, the suspense film. The casual pacing, the little diversions that feel like they could have been trimmed out of the screenplay, the character moments. All of those bits of the story that feel extraneous but actually pay off as the story builds. The tension building until you swear you're going to go mad before this story ends.
And now, all these decades later, that style of story telling is back in vogue and I couldn't be happier. I'm a sucker for a well-made suspense horror film. It Follows, Oculus, Don't Breathe, Split, The Witch. The slow burn of The Conjuring. The first three-quarters of Insidious before it all went off the rails. I love that there is an audience for this style of film making and I love that there are films being made for this audience.
With Get Out Jordan Peele has made a film that not only belongs on the same shelf as those great crop of current suspense films, he has made a film that returns to that 70s tradition of subverting the horror, of subverting those things that we fear, of making us face those things we rarely bring up in polite conversation. In Get Out it's not the haunted house that we fear, it's not the monster in the closet. What we fear in Get Out are those symbols of white flight, the gated community, those tree-lined suburban streets, the driveways that meander, the house set back from the road hidden by landscaped forest. It's Ben from Night of the Living Dead trying to survive not the reanimated dead, but the casual racism and condescension of polite white society. Get Out is Guess Who's Coming For Dinner by way of The Stepford Wives.
Get Out opens with a scene that works as suspense as well as a jagged look at life in modern North America, a lone person lost at night as a car stalks them. Except the setting is one of those Westchester County bedroom communities, tree-lined yards and street lights that were ordered from Pottery Barn and the lone person is a young black man, Lakeith Stanfield. The scene is shot in way that brings to mind both the work of John Carpenter and the death of Trayvon Martin. Get Out has a lot of moments that will feel very real for a segment of the audience. A traffic cop asking for a black man's ID even though he wasn't the one driving. The white girlfriend's father saying "I would have voted for Obama for a third term" moments after meeting him. The film works both as a suspense film and as a statement. And it works especially well as both.
I don't know if anyone else could have made Get Out. It takes an artist of great talent to pull off this magic trick. To get audiences to watch the same movie but to experience it completely differently. To make a film that is equally as much popcorn entertainment as it is political statement. It's always exciting to see an artist move outside of their comfort zone and succeed. And to see Jordan Peele, who achieved near-mythic status on Key and Peele, not only create this near-perfect film but to also do it as his debut film… this is the stuff legends are made of. It'll be a tough act to follow, but Mr. Peele has a confidence that is rare among directors with a much deeper IMDB page.
Get Out should be Daniel Kaluuya's star turn. As good as he was in Sicario, and he was just about brilliant, everything in Get Out rides on his performance. The audience needs to believe Chris when he is a guy in love, when he is a photographer, when he is a man of few words and a deep ocean of emotions and thoughts, when he is paranoid, when he is questioning what is really happening. With so little dialogue and a realistic acting style that is near minimalist in its execution, we are there with Chris when he wonders if his paranoia is justified or if he's just uncomfortable being around this many white people. Everything he does sells Chris as a real person, from the way he monosyllabically communicates with his girlfriend when she tries to justify the behaviour of her family to something as simple as the way he carries his camera.
The entire cast is pretty darned brilliant. If there's an award for casting, Get Out should win it. Lil Rel Howery as Chris' best friend and TSA employee Rod walks the thin line between comedic relief and believable concerned friend. Allison Williams as Rose, Chris' girlfriend, is like the perfect girlfriend - sexy and smart and sarcastic. Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as her parents, her a psychiatrist that can hypnotize you right out of smoking, him a doctor filled to the brim with dad jokes who rarely calls Chris by his name, preferring "my man". Bradley Whitford does something kinda beautiful in those moments, sounding earnest and sincerely like he's trying to be a friend but there is an undertone to it that makes it feel like at any moment he could be calling him "boy".
Get Out is sharp, smart and funny. It isn't a comedy, but there are moments of laugh out loud humour. It isn't a comedy with moments of suspense. Rather, it's the inverse, a suspense film with moments of humour. And it needs to be seen. It really is a brilliant debut film from a comedy god, a risky endeavour that works on every level. Suspenseful, heartbreaking, and funny Get Out is just about perfect. I can't wait to see what Jordan Peele does next.