‘Get Out’ is a chilling and relevant take on the horror genre

by Sebastian Wurzrainer | 2/28/17 12:00am

“Get Out” begins with a beautiful, stylistic long take following an African-American man trying to navigate a suburban neighborhood in the middle of the night. The scene sets the stage perfectly, as the man attempts to evade a car that starts to harass him. “Get Out” is a horror film to be sure, but its predominant interest is actually in the real-world horrors inflicted daily on the African-American community. It’s amazing that Hollywood, known for thinking the world is composed of entirely white, straight, cisgender males, allowed this film to be made — a film which unmasks the casual, passive and insidious racism that remains deep-seated and systemic in our society.

After that opening scene, we’re introduced to Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), also African-American, visiting Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener), the parents of his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). Chris quickly begins to sense that something is amiss in the Armitage home, commenting that all of Dean and Missy’s friends act like they’ve “never seen a black man.” Moreover, he notices that every other black person in the neighborhood is in a servile role. Matters are made worse when Chris learns that Missy is a hypnotist, and he begins to suspect nefarious motives in the community.

The first two-thirds of this film are brilliant, slow-paced build-up as Chris becomes increasingly concerned for his personal safety. The screenplay is sprinkled with deft humor that always has an undercurrent of brutal honesty. The movie hit home for me when Chris endures the ignorant comments of the community members. All I could think to myself was, “I know people from back home who would say something just like that!” All the horror in the movie aside, the apt portrayal of casual racism might be the scariest thing about the film.

That being said, once the evil plot is revealed in the last half hour, “Get Out” becomes a full-fledged horror story. On one hand, I admire how well done the horror is on the technical front. This is one of the few horror films I’ve ever seen that manages to justify its jump scares, which is an impressive feat in and of itself. Nonetheless, I’ve never been a fan of horror films; if you are, then more power to you, but personally I’m just not a fan of being terrified. And this film goes for full tilt horror near the end (or at least as full tilt as Sebastian Wurzrainer is willing to watch before running out of the theater in his urine-stained pants). I have to reiterate, though, that this is less a flaw with the film and more my own personal inhibition. I do, however, have one legitimate complaint about the ending: I wish the villainous motivation had been more intrinsically connected to the film’s discussion of modern racism. I must be vague to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that if the film had placed more emphasis on those themes in the final act, it might have avoided a few minor plot holes.

“Get Out” is the directorial debut of Jordan Peele of “Key and Peele” fame and his work is surprisingly self-assured. Actors-turned-directors generally have a 50/50 chance of being incompetent, but Peele has certainly beat the odds. His lead actor, Kaluuya, is also a natural star with infectious charisma, and I hope to see him in more films in the years to come. In fact, all of the actors do excellent work.

I anticipate that some audience members might complain about the film’s lack of subtlety. This is a fair comment but not, I think, valid criticism. Peele clearly has no intention to be subtle; instead, he intends to use the framing of a horror film to discuss pertinent issues while having fun at the same time. His attitude seems to be “subtlety be damned,” and I happen to support this position. I found the horror sequence at the end so unsettling that I may never watch the movie again, but “Get Out” is absolutely worth seeing at least once.

Rating: 8/10