Jordan Peele establishes directorial talents with suspenseful and hilarious “Get Out”
Harry Westergaard reviews the effective and timely debut from Jordan Peele.
March 5, 2017
Jordan Peele has become a new name to look out for in the directing field. Initially finding success on his hit Comedy Central show Key and Peele, the latter made his debut as a film director this past weekend. Get Out is a wonderful supernatural thriller that relishes in the cliches of the classics. Most importantly, it takes itself just seriously enough to be funny and make some biting commentary on society. The film centers on Chris an African-American man, who is nervous about going to his girlfriend Rose’s parents for the weekend, because he fears they will be racist. She assures him they will be cool with it, noting that her father “would vote for Obama a third time if he could.” However, upon arrival, his worst premonitions begin to materialize and even worsen as he looks deeper.
There is something to be said about tropes being done to perfection, and I think that Get Out is a prime example of this. There are many plot elements from older horror films, especially The Stepford Wives. The biggest import is arriving in a location that initially seems very vanilla; as we look closer, however, the tint of bizarre intrigue is something much more grim than we can imagine. The film employs this often-used setup, but with a newfound racial context. Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford lead this with the portrayal of Rose’s parents. They initially come across as being an extremely dorky, white couple, which provides some wonderful comic relief. Both pander to Chris and try to do their best to make him feel at home, yet succeed only at making him feel more awkward. We’ve seen this before, but Keener and Whitford are such good actors and so funny in the roles that it brings an air of freshness. What’s also great is how casual the switch to creepy is. They retain the dorkiness even in the scary scenes, and this makes everything more unsettling than if they had gone over the top. There is a very tense scene involving Keener trying to hypnotize Kaluuya that I don’t think would’ve worked if it hadn’t been for the former’s eery vanilla-ness.
That’s not to ignore Kaluuya either. As Chris, the lead, Kaluuya effectively carries the film. He’s a character with less memorable lines or quotes than the other characters, but what he succeeds with are his expressions. He’s a great visual actor, and in the tradition of such, he can say a lot with few words; his face alone can provide the required mood. The aforementioned hypnosis scene is an example of this strength; his look of true, deep-seated terror is so strong, it’s featured on the film’s poster.
The real standout performance in the film comes from Lil Rel Howery. This is Howery’s biggest role thus far and I hope it’s not his last. He gives a very energetic and memorable performance as Chris’s friend, Rod Williams, whom he phones throughout the movie to report the incidents playing out. Yes, this too is a trope that has been seen multiple times, the sort of comic relief character the lead talks to over the phone who is the only person with sense enough to believe him. Howery is so hilarious as Williams, building a real rapport with Kaluuya and stealing every scene with his memorable dialogue and delivery. Trope works because it is so lovingly and intelligently done.
Part of the genius at play here are the highlighted racial elements. Much of the terror experienced by our main character in the film is fueled by the not so subtle racism and profiling by his hosts. Yes, there are supernatural elements that I won’t mention here, but the driving force of the film’s terror is racism. When he arrives at the house, Chris is mortified to see that the family still has black servants, a maid and groundskeeper.
The groundskeeper is portrayed by Marcus Henderson. He plays the role with a sort of enthusiastic blandness. Upon Chris’s comment about him having a lot of work to do, he replies “Nothing I don’t want to do,” with an added smile. Betty Gabriel is also divinely creepy in the role of Georgina, the maid. She tries to get close with Chris, because he is the only black person out in the country. Her performance has a chilling quality about it. Both Henderson and Gabriel succeed at playing characters who are under control (metaphorically and literally) by their white employers.
Decent modern horror films are few and far between. Lately, however, we have been getting some quality products in the genre. With Get Out, Jordan Peele has left a stark mark on the genre. The film is a statement on racial identity and tension, that never loses it’s comedic edge when dealing with such matters. It doesn’t regard itself too heavily, and yet it never trivializes itself or its topics. With a tight script that doesn’t allow the pacing to slow for a second and engaging performances from the cast, the film is a well-made masterpiece of modern horror.