Get Out functions as a sort of litmus test for the audience – one’s level of reactionary discomfort to this material would indicate a broader discomfort with any bold distillation of the racial divide. A lot of folks – even those who confidently claim “I have a lot of black friends” – will walk out of this film uncomfortable or even angry. They will have failed the test.
Most brilliant about this uniquely eerie and unnerving horror tome are its many overlapping layers. It is a very dedicated genre picture, entrenched in and faithful to the central tenets of the horror form. There’s also a disarming streak of comic zeal running through it, which shouldn’t be surprising coming from writer-director Jordan Peele. Its most fascinating layer, however, is its righteous anger, fierce and blistering, which will cut right through the audience and leave people on one side of the fence or the other. You don’t want to get caught on the wrong side.
The horror genre was built on the back of cultural anxieties, and Get Out is sourced from that ugliest festering cultural wound of all: racism. But it doesn’t hover like a dark cloud or land with an earnest thud – it jabs like precision fighter and then delivers one knockout punch after another. It’s incendiary but not polemical. Like the best horror, its social commentary is shrouded in shadowy menace and soaked in candy-red blood.
It’s also targeting a particular insidious prevailing logic in modern society: the faux-liberal notion of living in a “post-racial” world. When Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) visits girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) secluded family estate for a weekend getaway, what’s most hysterically uncomfortable are the seam-showing overstated presentations of “being cool” with people of color. The Armitage family is led by patriarch Dean (Bradley Whitford) and matriarch Missy (Catherine Keener) – he’s a neurosurgeon and she’s psychiatrist specializing in hypnotherapy, so you can easily how this could all go gothically awry. They exude the embarrassingly casual “we’re obviously the good guys” vibe that is girded in white privilege – nothing is more apparent to them than their own version of evolved progressivism and there is no topic they like stressing more. “I would’ve voted for a third term of Obama if I could’ve,” Dean assures Chris, who never asked.
As a writer-director, Peele enjoys teasing the mystery of what precisely lurks behind this façade, but he wastes no time in making clear that it’s something vicious, and perhaps otherworldly. Not only is this sea of upper-crust white folks explicitly gentrified, it’s also frighteningly regressive. Chris encounters three black people in the Armitage social circle – two are house servants and one is the apparent boytoy of a family friend. Their tokenism is matched only by their arch, sinister over-politeness. It’s almost as if they’ve been brainwashed…or worse.
Get Out is almost self-referential in its overt creepiness – the title itself serves as a warning to its central protagonist – but that doesn’t diminish its genre effectiveness, it actually enhances it. In a narrative this self-aware, anything can happen – and eventually does, as the screenplay’s slow burn spins into a phantasmagoric nightmare. The implications are disturbing, hilarious, and ultimately quite risky for a wide swath of the electora…er, I mean audience. Peele has never been one to shy away from edgy boldness, even going back to the beginnings of Key & Peele on Comedy Central. But here he unleashes a visceral anger against an establishment that denies the reality of racial tensions in society, promoting the notion of “progress” as a way to stifle legitimate growth and discourse when it’s needed the most. Make no mistake, Get Out is a ferocious outcry for social justice. It just so happens that it’s also endlessly entertaining horror to boot.