Release Date: February 24th, 2017
Director: Jordan Peele | MPAA Rating: R | LeavittLens Rating: 9.5/10
Throughout Hollywood history, it has often taken filmmakers multiple years–sometimes decades–to effectively hone the ability to immerse an audience into a character’s mind. The vicarious eye of film, as Jon Boorstin would term it, is one that can take multiple projects to craft; audience connection is rarely immediate. Yet in his directorial debut, Jordan Peele has crafted a “social thriller” (a la Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, except funnier and more horrifying than both) that transcends genre conventions and brings the audience not only into the mind of his main character, but also into a piece of the African-American experience in the 21st Century.
Most know Peele from his sketch comedy work with Keegan-Michael Key on the Comedy Central show Key and Peele, which often served as a comedic mirror to a multitude of American social issues. This is why, at first glance, his foray into the horror/thriller genre seemed odd. A re-examination of just a few Key and Peele sketches, however, reveals a keen eye for other genre conventions, and it seems Jordan was able to effectively sharpen his teeth through the show in order to produce a polished and original first feature.
The film opens by introducing us to Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a talented black photographer whose girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), happens to be white. The couple is traveling to Rose’s childhood home to meet her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener), and at first they seem friendly enough. Sure, their attempts at connection are often racist in their own way (at one point Rose’s father mentions that he “would’ve voted for Obama for a third term” if he could), but their hugs and hospitality seem well-intentioned. This starts to shift quickly, however, and it is the simultaneous confusion and escalation of the middle third of the film that both highlights Peele’s deft direction and sends the audience into surrogate horror alongside the protagonist. From the odd and suspicious behavior of the Armitage’s black servants to the unsettling ways in which the white characters interact with Chris throughout, it is clear quickly: we all want to get out alongside Chris.
Though it works when read only as a conventional thriller/horror film, it is the thematic richness of Get Out’s motifs and imagery that elevate the film well above its peers. Its writing is like one of those chocolate lava cakes: deliciously funny and cutting at first, and after a few bites it becomes clear that there is exponentially more richness to it. After multiple rewatches, we realize that the entire thing is loaded, each line strategic and streamlined; no word is wasted, rewarding every revisit. The result is a film that does not end with its closing credits: its scares and laughs embed themselves into the mind of each viewer, going with them into a divided and predominantly unjust world. In a nation where any dialogue surrounding racial and ethnic tensions can send many into vindictive and venomous tribal posturing, it will always be well-told stories that break the ice surrounding hardened hearts and give voice to the oft-silenced. This is exactly what Peele manages here, a work that expertly unrolls the rug and exposes what has been shoved under it for far too long.
Additional Note: I’ve chosen Get Out as the first in a series of reviews highlighting the African-American experience in our modern world. As a middle-class white male, I grew up with a small view of the world, largely unaware of the systemic issues that pervade our world in sinister ways. It was, and continues to be, the stories of African-American friends, coworkers, and artists–in conjunction with the biblical emphasis on protection of the oppressed and the liberating justice of God*–that have expanded my perspective and have shaped my desire to create solidarity with and empower those around me, inasmuch as I am able to. Get Out is one of my favorite movies of all time, as it not only utilizes meshes some of my favorite genre elements, but also carries with it a certain literary quality. It can be mined again and again and can be repeatedly returned to in times of strife and difficulty; indeed, it has proven only increasingly relevant in our current cultural moment. I hope that this review, and the series of reviews to come, serve as reminders of the cruciality of storytelling in a world defined by a lack of empathy. Keep reading, keep watching, keep listening, friends. We’ve got lots of transformation to do.
*If you’re interested in reading more on the topic of the justice of God and the biblical care for the oppressed, here are a few reads worth exploring:
Doing Christian Ethics From The Margins, by Miguel A. De La Torre
Strength To Love, by. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Prophetic Imagination, by Walter Brueggemann
The Crucified God, by Jurgen Moltmann