True confession time: I don’t much go for horror movies. I was a nervous kid that didn’t like that stuff, and that extends to my adulthood. Classic horror movies where atmosphere is everything I can handle, but I don’t much like gore or jump scares.
Why, then, would I go to see the new movie Get Out? Two reasons: a horror movie written and directed by one half of the Key & Peele comedy team, which makes for an interesting draw all by itself. And then it had a 100% critical score on Rotten Tomatoes. That means it’s probably pretty darn good, plus that guy who gave Toy Story 3 a bad review hasn’t said anything bad about this movie (yet).
So, how was it?
Peele actually made a compelling horror movie all on its own, and with a strong undercurrent of racial commentary going on underneath. A good deal of that makes sense. The best horror speaks to what the storyteller finds the scariest, and as a black man, Peele knows far better than I ever will about that sort of racism. I’m reminded of the section of I Am Not Your Negro when James Baldwin’s writing talked about the white liberal being given token gestures to feel better about themselves in movies like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner that would not work on the black audience, or even the way that institutional racism was the real enemy in Hidden Figures instead of some Klan robe-wearing blatant racist. Maybe movies are starting to find a better way to deal with racism instead of the more feel-good-because-a-white-person-noticed sort of film where for years white people were the heroes of movies based on that deal with things like the Civil Rights Movement.
But what about this movie?
After a creepy cold open, the movie introduces Afrian American photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) getting ready to take a weekend trip with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). They’re going to see her parents Dean and Missy (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) for the weekend in an out-of-the-way upper-class suburb. Once out there, Chris has to deal with the casual racism coming from Dean and Rose’s brother Jeremy, as well as some less-than-tactful behavior from Missy, plus a state trooper that dealt with the couple on the side of the road on their way to the house. Rose seems outraged by quite a lot of this, but Chris seems to take it in a bit of stride. Of course, all that says is Chris is sadly rather used to this sort of thing. As well-meaning as most of Rose’s family think they are, they’re maybe giving up some things they shouldn’t.
If anything, the one down note on the movie may be the casting of actor Caleb Landry Jones as Jeremy. That guys looks too much like a movie serial killer, undercutting the more blasé appearances of Missy and especially Dean.
Yes, there’s something really odd going on here. What few black people Chris meets in the countryside house seem…off. Peele’s script takes full advantage of his sketch comedy roots with dialogue and character work that wouldn’t look too out-of-place on his old show, but work very well as horror elements. He manages to create a highly appropriate feeling of dread as the movie progresses, and it isn’t until the film’s third act when we learn just what exactly is going on that the racial subtext becomes straight text and maybe doesn’t work as well. Peele’s comedy roots also show in the character of Rod, Chris’ best friend. Rod is pure comic relief as a TSA agent with a penchant for conspiracy theories.
Quite frankly, this has been a good month for movies between this, John Wick: Chapter Two, and Lego Batman. Here’s hoping this level of quality continues into the rest of 2017, which I know is highly unlikely. Nine and a half creepy bingo games out of ten.