I have to admit when I first saw the trailer for Get Out I was immediately skeptical. It sounded like an interesting concept but I thought it would be another mediocre horror film. Admittedly I’m not a huge horror fan, my favourite horror films are The Shining and Alien, hybrid-horror films which I’m not sure some horror purists would consider true horror. However in recent years I’ve grown more fond of horror with films like The Witch, The Cabin in the Woods, Green Room and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night being among my favourites. I really enjoyed those films because they subverted genre expectations or were a hybrid of different genres. Despite my growing taste for horror the trailer for Get Out didn’t sell me. That was until the film was released in the United States and I saw the overwhelmingly positive response (100% with 139 reviews at one point) and of course memes on Twitter. Then I discovered the film was written and directed by Jordan Peele, one half of the sketch comedy duo, Key and Peele, and I was suddenly very intrigued. That intrigue grew into anticipation which grew into excitement into full-blown obsession as I anxiously awaited the UK release of Get Out. I’ve now seen it twice and it was well worth the wait.
Get Out opens like a typical horror film, someone is walking alone on an empty street at night and they’re going to get captured or killed by whatever the monster in the film is. In the case of Get Out like every horror trope in it (and there are a few) it takes on new meaning. This is because the person walking down the street is a black man, named Andre Hayworth, played by the always brilliant LaKeith Stanfield. There is a well worn trope in horror films where the token black character usually a man dies first. Get Out cleverly subverts this trope. Andre is walking down an empty white neighbourhood and is captured by a mysterious hooded figure but he doesn’t die instead as we later find out something far more sinister happens. There are already so many layers of meaning in this opening scene. For one it allows a black man to be scared which in a white society we aren’t allowed to be. This might sound ridiculous if you’re not black but trust me when you’re a black man you have the pressure of hyper-masculinity (something Moonlight brilliantly explored) but you also can’t be seen as threatening or you risk your life. We are often seen as intimidating and we’re not allowed to be vulnerable. It’s so refreshing to see Get Out subvert this because if you’ve grown up like I have as a black boy in a white society you know that if you put your hood up some people will have a preconception about you because they’ve seen images of “thugs” perpetuated in the media. This resonates deeply with recent high profile cases of young black boys like Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, who were seen as intimidating despite their young age, killed by police. Even though I was myself scared of white chavs I still avoided appearing intimidating from a young age from fear of scaring old white people. There are a lot of things I related to in Get Out because simply being a black man you share a lot of experiences with other black men because of the way society treats us as a whole. Despite being set in America, I felt a lot of the same feelings the black characters felt in this film.
The post opening credits scene begins with an incredible musical cue, Childish Gambino’s “Redbone.” It’s a smooth sexy Bootsy Collins channeling R&B/funk jam, pure baby making music but it’s lyrics are lot deeper than that. During the chorus Gambino repeats the line “stay woke”, for those not familiar with the term it is used as a reminder for black people to stay knowledgeable and not to turn a blind eye on injustices against black people. The title of the song itself “redbone” which means a light-skinned black or biracial woman is relevant as Jordan Peele himself is a biracial…well man. Peele mined his biracial identity for comedy on his very popular sketchy comedy television series, Key and Peele. In Get Out, Peele makes many interesting observations on what it’s like to be black in a white society. The protagonist of Get Out, Chris, (brilliantly played by Skins star, British actor, Daniel Kaluuya) is a very dark-skinned black, young photographer who is dating a white girl, Rose (Allison Williams of Girls). Although Peele is a biracial man with a white mother and black father, he identities as a black man and calls himself a black man because historically that’s how black people of mixed race have been treated in America. The casting of the film is excellent. Daniel Kaluuya, who I’ve been a huge fan of since watching him in an episode of Black Mirror, astounded me in this role giving a subtle yet powerful performance – the range of facial expressions is seriously impressive. Allison Williams also give a good performance as a very basic white girl almost ridiculously basic that I wonder if she was acting at all. But the MVP is Rod, the TSA agent, played hilariously by Lil Rel Howery. He is the much needed comic relief of the film, delivering very funny lines and being a proxy for the black audience member.
The premise of the film is an idea which has probably come across the mind of every black person who’s ever been in a relationship with a white person before (perhaps relatable to any interracial relationship but more specifically black and white couples). I related to Get Out not because of the interracial relationship though it’s something I’ve thought about but because it shows what it felt like to be the only or one of the few black people in a mostly white space. Chris and Rose go away for a weekend to her parents house presumably somewhere in upstate New York. What Chris knows but Rose doesn’t realise is that it is important that Rose’s parents know he’s black. This is so that Chris can prepare himself for the inevitable questions and pandering as a black person amongst white people. Unfortunately, the weekend is anything but a comfortable experience for Chris. Rose’s father, Dean, is played with a sinister charm by Bradley Whitford, another genius bit of casting, Whitford appeared in Cabin in the Woods. His charm isn’t so sinister at first, sweet-talking and a bit annoying, he drops slang to appeal to Chris and says he would voted for Obama a third term if he could. Her mother, Missy, is played skillfully by the wonderful, Catherine Keener. Missy doesn’t pander to Chris but she does try to get him to kick his smoking habit. While in this house, Chris starts to notice that other than Rose’s weird white liberal parents there are black people working there who act strangely. There is the robot-like, groundsman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and the nervous, maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel). The two actors give excellent little performances which make for great moments of tension. Finally, her brother, Jeremy, is played by Caleb Landry Jones who brings a lot of slime and sleaze to this role. The Armitages have an annual get-together and invite all their white friends. Chris is asked lots of ridiculous and annoying questions as the only black guy (not working) there and the uncomfortable feeling on his face throughout the scene is one I and many other black people who have been the only one in a white space have felt. At this point, the story begins to takes a darker turn as the film leads up to a truly stunning reveal which has left me shocked and stunned ever since I saw it.
Jordan Peele has surprised me and got me excited by crafting a masterful and timely satirical horror-thriller and I can’t wait to see more from him. Get Out succeeds perfectly as a horror film if you’re black. Not because it’s terrifying though there are a few jump-scares it’s not really that scary, more so creepy and suspenseful, non-horror fans should be able to go see it. No, Get Out succeeds as a horror film especially if you’re black because you will recognise how uncomfortable and anxious it can feel to be the only black person in a white space (no matter how nice people are) and you will mostly like feel how Chris feels, sitting in that cinema seat. And oh yeah Get Out must be seen in the cinema (the more packed the better) because it works incredibly well when you can react with the audience. Different audiences react differently to different scenes, the first time I saw it it was mostly white audience with a few black people and some interracial couples. I took enormous delight in hearing knowing laughter from other black people, nervous laughter from white people and awkward glances with white people after the film was over. The second time I saw it, it was in a packed screen and I was one of two black men (I could see) in the entire audience. I felt the audience’s gaze on me not literally but I could sense it. There is so much depth to Get Out and it will be regarded as a classic horror film. I can’t wait to see it over and over again!