tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Get Out’ is Brilliant

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut wrings tension out of normalized behavior.

NBHD movie 4-2 ticketsGet Out tells the story of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), who at the start of the movie is packing for a trip with his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). She is taking him to meet her parents for the first time. Chris is a little worried, since it turns out that Rose hasn’t even told her parents that Chris is black. But she assures him that her parents are totally cool and that everything will be okay. And sure enough, her parents seem to be totally welcoming of Chris, and are happy to have him around on a weekend where the family will be holding a nice little party.Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 1.37.20 PMTo say more about the plot would be unwise at this point. Suffice it to say that this is a thriller, but it is an unusual one for the time. The modern thriller/horror movie is basically a delivery device for jolts of surprise. It hardly matters what the threat actually is, because they’re only really there to pop up around blind corners and in mirror reflections. Get Out, like many of the best classic thrillers, takes real-world neuroses and takes them to a narrative extreme. This movie wrings tension out of toxic racial dynamics that have become regularized in modern day, transforming micro-aggression into very real aggressions.Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 1.38.16 PMThis movie is all about exploiting the tension that still exists any time black people and white people interact. It’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner magnified—the discomfort inherent to all these interactions filtered through a horror aesthetic. It creates a central mystery for the protagonist: is what he’s experiencing genuinely something strange, or is it just another manifestation of the casual racism that he encounters every day of his life? The film is fueled by this uncertainty, highlighting the very mundane but ever-present horrors of being a black man in America.Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 1.37.38 PMThese same scenes could be played as pure comedy, something that might show up in director Jordan Peele’s sketch show Key and Peele. But rather than focus on the punch lines, the film ratchets the casual menace of these uncomfortable interactions. The power dynamics are always on display: Chris is the outsider here, and he has very little agency in this situation. The film compounds this with a clever character backstory that provides an effective context for the protagonist’s general inaction. And that builds into a powerful, rather subversive arc that produces daring imagery that fully embraces the fears represented by the film’s ultimate villains.Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 1.41.16 PMThe pleasures of the film’s central mystery are so abundant that it almost feels like a letdown when revelations are made. It’s still clever, but in turning the implied into something literal, the film actually loses a little something. A subplot concerning a friend of the main character yields laughs, but ends up feeling like too much of an indulgence. But these are minor flaws, in the end. The production package is terrific, and the acting is pretty great. Daniel Kaluuya plays up all the things that his character feels he can’t say, fully embodying the tenuous position that the African-American man still holds in American society. Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, and Catherine Keener are all perfectly cast. Betty Gabriel steals the few scenes that she’s in, finding stirring humanity in a character that has been robbed of it.Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 1.39.04 PMGet Out is solidly brilliant. It might not be exactly what people expect. The whole trick to a lot of modern thrillers is that they’re still escapist entertainment: they confront audiences with outlandish things that serve as distractions from the problems of real life. This is a film that, like so many of the best examples of the genre, fueled by the tensions of everyday life. It wants to challenge what has already been normalized, what is already seen as genteel behavior by the supposedly enlightened elite. And there lies the true horror of this premise: there are cracks in the veneer in civilization, and there are those who still have plenty to fear.

Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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