Most horror movies are merely a sequence of events, a clothesline on which to hang pop-out scares, tense build-ups, gore effects, death scenes, or some combination of all of the above. Get Out is one of the rare horror movies that doesn’t leave it at the level of a technical exercise, that’s actually about something. Under the writing and direction of Jordan Peele – known for his comedy sketches with Keegan-Michael Key, but here uses his debut to indulge in his dark side – the film is a twisted, taut, and clever satire, one that crosses Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with elements of The Stepford Wives. It begs several serious questions about how much progress has truly been made when it comes to race relations in the United States.
Chris Washington, a successful photographer and former basketball prospect (Daniel Kaluuya), is a black man in a relationship with a white woman, college student Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). Chris is reluctant to meet Rose’s parents, Rose having never told them that her boyfriend is black. She assures Chris that he has nothing to worry about, that her parents, while perhaps a bit lame, are open-minded and liberal. The drive from the densely-populated city into isolated woodlands is uneventful until a deer runs right into the car’s path; not only does this awaken within Chris a repressed emotional trauma, it also brings both Chris and Rose into contact with police. The officer asks for Chris’ ID, despite the fact that he wasn’t the one driving. Chris doesn’t want to make waves, but Rose calls the officer out on it. She’s just modern that way.
When the two arrive at the parents’ estate, located miles from another house, we in the audience are quick to notice three things. One is the fact that racism can be subtle and subversive, as when white people go out of their way to say how much they appreciate black culture; Rose’s father, respected neurosurgeon Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), makes it a point to tell Chris that he would have voted Obama in for a third term if he could, and even expresses admiration for Jesse Owens and his Nazi-defeating race wins at the 1936 Summer Olympics. But Chris is also made aware that Dean’s father competed in those same races, which is to say he was beaten by Owens. “It must have been tough for your father,” Chris says. “He never got over it,” Dean replies.
The other thing we notice is the black help – a maid named Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and a groundskeeper named Walter (Marcus Henderson). Something isn’t right with them. They speak in subservient tones, taking time between sentences. Their expressions aren’t genuine. It’s as if they missed the entire Civil Rights era. Sometimes, Georgina is seen wandering in quick darts through the halls of the house, as if she were keeping an eye on Chris. At one point, for no reason at all, Walter runs at Chris with the speed of a sprinter. This alone is enough to give Chris the willies. It gets even worse at an annual shindig hosted by Rose’s parents, in which elderly white people convene and express to Chris how much they like black people, especially physically; when Chris takes a photo of the only other black man in attendance, he temporarily snaps out of his strange docile state and lunges at Chris frantically shouting, “Get out, get out!”
Finally, we notice Rose’s mother, a psychologist named Missy (Catherine Keener). Like her husband, she’s warm and accommodating to Chris. She also immediately picks up on the fact that he’s trying to quit smoking, and seems rather eager to cure him of his cravings with hypnotherapy. Dean swears by his wife’s methods; he too was a smoker, but after just one session with his wife, he could no longer look at a cigarette, much less smoke one. “Do you smoke around my daughter?” Missy asks, not reproachfully but certainly with an air of concern. “I’m trying to quit,” Chris replies nervously. He understandably has no desire to be hypnotized, although after a night of strange dreams, he wonders if he ended up under Missy’s spell regardless.
The truth about the situation Chris is in is obviously something I can’t divulge. What I can say is that I’ve of two minds about it. On the one hand, it’s utterly preposterous, and it somewhat undermines the point Peele is trying to make about racism. On the other hand, this is the kind of film that allows for preposterousness; if you’re going to make a satirical thriller, maybe the right approach is to go for broke. What’s not in dispute here is the effectiveness of Get Out. It’s not only a frightening film, it’s socially aware. Many white people, myself included, like to think themselves progressive, unbiased, nonjudgmental, colorblind. But perhaps it’s a subconscious front for their envy. Why should someone else possess what should be theirs? It’s just not fair.