Writer/director Jordan Peele’s clever and ambitious “Get Out,” one of the only horror films to directly address race and racial relations, deals with a very specific kind of racism. I’m not talking about overt racism perpetrated by White Nationalists or Neo-Nazis, or even apathetically tinged racism (someone seeing an article about the anniversary of the Selma march and saying “who cares?”) but a kind of indirect racism born out of awkwardness and naiveté. Usually, the perpetrators are trying so hard not to come off racist or offensive that they end up saying indirectly racist/patronizing things to whomever they’re interacting with, alienating that person, making them into “the other.”
This kind of racism is more fascinating than the overt, angry kind because the people who do it (often times well meaning, privileged white people who fall on the liberal spectrum of politics, but not all of course) don’t consider themselves to be racist. They might even become defensive, saying things like: “I have a black friend!” or “I love black culture!” Therefore, they don’t fully know what they’re doing.
Out of this complex, understated form of racism emerges “Get Out,” a feverish genre piece that can be described as “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” by way of “The Stepford Wives,” and even that description doesn’t adequately cover all the delectably absurd and disturbing turns Peele’s script takes.
We see this indirect racism immediately in the interactions between protagonist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) affluent parents, Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford, with snow-white hair and a beard, wearing big black glasses). Chris and Allison are visiting Dean and Missy for the weekend, staying at their massive estate in the midst of a secluded suburb, populated by other affluent white people.
There’s tension in the air. Dean is dorky and awkward, trying to make polite conversation with Chris, but the things he says carry a racial undercurrent — he uses the phrase “my man” constantly when addressing him, and at one point brings up the fact that his maid and house keeper are black (and how “weird” is is since he and his wife are white. Yeah … dude, just stop talking) even though Chris never brings it up. He makes things even more awkward when he tries to emphasize that he’s not racist saying, “I would have voted for Obama for a third term.” Chris takes these comments in stride, staying calm and collected. But things get weirder as the weekend goes on and Chris finds himself increasingly alienated from the family.
In the traditional sense, “Get Out,” isn’t very scary. It’s suspenseful and creepy at times but it’s never terrifying or dread inducing the way a straightforward horror film like “The Shining” is, instead falling more on the side of horror-comedy. In fact, a lot of times it plays like a parody of horror/suspense films; there are a handful of jump scares throughout that feel ironic. Thankfully, it’s a hell of a horror comedy; first time director Peele has a knack for creating tense, awkward interactions between his characters that are both amusing and quietly eerie, and delivers a handful of gnarly, over the top kills
“Get Out” is also an inventive, thought-provoking social satire. Peele playfully critiques various clichés and stereotypes associated with African American culture and communities (the ignorant assumption that all black people know each other, for example) without being heavy-handed, and addresses the topics of slavery (a much covered subject in film) and racial superiority in the context of genetics in bizarre and unexpected ways.
The cast is great across the board. Relative newcomer Kaluuya gives a sturdy, understated performance, while Whitford is a hoot. At the beginning his Dean resembles an affluent, intellectual Michael Scott but slowly gets more sinister and poised. Meanwhile, Keener is effortlessly mysterious and evolves into the creepiest presence in the film. And then there’s LilRel Howery as Chris’s concerned best friend Rod, who pretty much steals every scene he’s in with his flawless comedic timing. It’s weird to call him “comic relief” in a movie that’s fairly comedic already but his fast-talking, semi dopey presence certainly helps to ease tension.
Admittedly, the climax does get to be a little messy. It’s still satisfying from a dramatic perspective but it can’t help but feel needlessly excessive and relentless at the same time. And there are other minor bumps and blemishes throughout the film, but it doesn’t matter in the long run because “Get Out” is a bold, entertaining, suspenseful and intelligent film. You can enjoy “Get Out” for its surface-level thrills and eccentricities but you can also look deeper — dissecting and analyzing its meaty racial subtext.