Race relations in the USA are strained, to put it mildly; new stories about white police officers harassing or shooting black citizens appear almost weekly, and the marching trend towards demagogic fascism with strong racist overtones continues on. Racial segregation has long since been struck from law, but the damage and divisions between these communities are still real and visceral.
Get Out tells the story of the Black nightmare. The Black experience dialled up to 11. Visiting a white girlfriend’s parents on their rural estate, and having to navigate the ludicrous and complex social constructs and prejudices that exist between these groups. It’s designed to express the fear, the anxiety, the awkwardness, the prejudice, the history, and the perceived consequences of a Black introduction into a White suburban family.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. A lot of my enjoyment is probably due to the surroundings in which I watched it (more on that later), but this directorial debut from Jordan Peele feels like the creation of a well-established horror director with a confident grasp of racial and cultural issues (#woke).
Daniel Kaluuya’s portrayal of the pointedly named Chris Washington is extraordinary. The range of vivid emotion and his ability to slip into character are performed effortlessly and tirelessly. He is undoubtedly the high-point of the cast.
The use of humour and comic relief is admirable – Lil Rei Howery’s TSA guard is reason enough to see this film – and serves to shatter the tension of what would otherwise be an unremittingly bleak story.
The reliance on cheap jump scares causes me to lose a lot of respect for horror films, so I’m happy to be able to say that they are used sparingly (I initially typo’d that word as ‘scaringly’), and the majority of the horror is this deep and slow-burning crescendo of tension that, combined with the horrors of its racial connotations, serves to unsettle the mind, rather than just scare the senses.
Although it’s a solid and enjoyable horror film on its own cinematic merit, this film is built firmly upon the theme of race and racism. A lot of the thematic currents are explicit and sometimes almost patronising in their conspicuousness, but I found that it’s the things left unsaid that had the most weight.
Almost every scene and line of dialogue drips with thick racial symbolism; from the ‘kill the deers’ speech through to the theatrical poster – Daniel Kaluuya’s terrified monochrome eyes wedged between solid white – the issue of race is inescapable. As the story progresses, we exponentially experience the history of black slavery, identity, and equality through well-constructive metaphors and narrative devices.
Ultimately, this film is about black slavery; it’s about whites dehumanising and claiming ownership of blacks, but I’ll avoid spoilers and say no more on that point. When a certain character uses the phrase ‘a sliver of consciousness’, you’ll know what I mean.
I had something of a unique experience watching Get Out; I was invited by a friend to a private screening organised by a group advocating and supporting black people in cinema, a cause of which I’m strongly in favour. I was literally one of two white people in an audience of 100+, and hearing the discussion afterwards was frankly eye-opening, and genuinely moving.
Sadly I confess that the point I made early on about this film being the ‘black nightmare experience’ when meeting a white girlfriend’s parents was something that was discussed; it’s easy to see Chris as a proxy for a black audience, and I felt somewhat vindicated by hearing it talked about so openly by the people most affected by these issues.
On a superficial level, I felt like there was a message embedded in the storyline just for me, or at least for (some) white people who might fall foul of this particular faux-pas.
This running gag comes in the form of the well-meaning but ill-advised comments from white characters, such as ‘I would have voted for Obama for a third time!’ and ‘I know Tiger Woods. Love Tiger! Great man,’ and so on. Even the implicit metaphor of a blind white man who claims he doesn’t care about race (‘I don’t see colour.’) I feel like there was a rather unsubtle message encoded in this dialogue: ‘dear white people, you know those things you say to try to relate or make us accept you? Just don’t.’
Get Out has a black audience in mind, while expertly avoiding the shameful pitfalls of Blaxploitation cinema, and on that merit alone it is worthy of praise.
I dearly want Get Out to be a mainstream commercial and critical success, and to act as a waypoint on the road towards major production companies not seeing racial minorities in starring roles as a ‘threat to profits,’ although that isn’t the only reason.
I want it to succeed because it is a genuinely good film. I haven’t enjoyed a contemporary horror film this much for a while. It was remarkably emotionally involving for a horror; my heart rose and sank rapidly at points, I felt powerful pity and horror for some of the unfortunate minor characters, and the empathy the audience – of any race – feels for Chris and what he represents is real and readily accessible.
(Also on Letterboxd)