Actor and comedian Jordan Peele continues to show his brilliance and versatility as a creator with his directorial debut, “Get Out.” Offering a poignant discussion of modern racism packaged in satire, the film is a perfect balance of humor and horror.
Peele, who also wrote the film, quickly presents the audience with two fear and anxiety-ridden situations faced by African-American men in modern America; a man nervously walking through a quiet, affluent suburb nervously chats on the phone with a friend as he tries to reach his destination, noting that he does not want to be there alone at night. Moments later his worst fear is realized and he is kidnapped by a masked stranger.
Immediately after that we are introduced to Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) who is anxiously preparing to meet his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time. He tries to have a conversation with his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) about the situation, but she laughs it off as nothing, insisting that he shouldn’t be worried as her parents aren’t racist.
The New York City couple are going to be spending the weekend at the family’s rural estate. Though things seem typically awkward at first, Chris’s worst fears are beyond realized and what he thought would be a painfully uncomfortable weekend turns into a fight for his life.
In both instances, Peele uses very real fears, anxieties and challenges as a jumping off point for a satirical exploration of racism, leading to a heightened plot tinged with flavors of horror and comedy that drives the initial, realistic fears home.
Peele’s ability to include a genuine presentation of modern racism while also providing a funny, entertaining movie and excellent thriller deserves to be recognized and commended. Prior to the twist that propels the film’s descent into horror, Chris is enduring the social horrors of meeting his girlfriend’s liberal, rich, white parents, played by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, and her brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). The interactions are embarrassing to witness, while also laying the groundwork for the twists to come.
Rose’s father can’t seem to stop calling Chris “my man” or bringing up his love of Obama and other prominent, black historical figures. Her brother Jeremy, your typical college graduate who probably thinks he is more woke than he actually is, furthers the embarrassment, delving into discussions of genetic superiority and attempting to assert physical dominance over Chris.
Early on in the film, Peele also manages to slip in comments on the tension between the police and the African-American community, with a short but tense confrontation in the first act that comes back in the form of a gut-wrenching moment at the very end of the film, expertly summarizing the current tensions without actually going where the audience believes it will. This moment, which I will not spoil here, pulls the rug out from under the audience, subverting their expectations and allowing them to discover the commentary lying beneath it for themselves.
Throughout the awkward weekend turned nightmare scenario, Chris has a link to the outside world in the form of his best friend Rod, portrayed here by Lil Rel Howery, a TSA agent tasked with watching Chris’s dog for his weekend away. Rod is just the tension-slicing conduit of comedy the film needed to play up its satirical nature. Rod jokingly warns Chris he should never have agreed to visit his white girlfriend’s parents at their estate in the woods, and continues to be a hilarious source of wisdom throughout, shouting wild conspiracy theories at Chris over the phone from his apartment in New York.
Peele has given Rod the funniest lines in the movie and Howery delivers them with a genuine quality that puts him in the running for best character in the film and presents him as an avenue through which any audience member can experience the story. In anticipation of having to play to audience members that might need reminding that the film is in fact satire, part of Rod’s purpose as a character is making that point clear. This purpose comes to a head with his hilarious explanation of what he believes is occurring at Rose’s family’s home to police officers at the precinct. These officers laugh him off completely, magnifying the hyperbolic quality of the third act of the film.
Racism has been a theme in Peele’s previous work, and is a subject he confidently tackles in “Get Out.” There aren’t many scares in the film, but rather a constant feeling of dread and anxiety, cut every now and again with comedic moments. “Get Out” quickly hurdles headlong into an over the top, worst-case scenario that sees old racism collide with new. The film forces us to confront it rather than ignore it, and delivers an excellent horror-comedy in the process.