You might expect to find a secret society of murderous sci-fi racists in the American south but, in 2017's Get Out, a young black man finds he can’t even trust his white girlfriend’s wealthy liberal family in an unnamed part of New England. Directed by comedian Jordan Peele, the film at times feels more like a parody of The Shining but also works as an effectively sinister horror film in its own right, particularly in the first half. Despite some plot holes and an underlying misogyny, the film in several ways successfully exploits a certain kind of liberal white racial neurosis.
Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a young black man who’s a professional photographer with a white girlfriend, Rose, played by Allison Williams. Samuel L. Jackson has argued that Kaluuya, being British, might not have been the right choice for the role because England’s history with race has been different from the history of race relations in the U.S. I would argue that a good actor from any country can play someone well from another country, but on the other hand, if you can’t get a good actor, you can at least minimise the problem by casting someone close to the character. Whatever the reason might be, Kaluuya is intensely bland and one of the weak points of the film, as is Allison Williams.
Get Out fares much better with its supporting cast, particularly Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, and Lil Rel Howery. Whitford and Keener, as Rose’s parents Dean and Missy, make Chris’s introduction to the Armitage family the most memorable part of the film. As Dean brags about a black athlete from the U.S. making a fool of Hitler at the Olympics and randomly stating that he would have voted for Obama for a third term if he could have, you find yourself analysing the subtle portents in everything he says. Is he just socially clumsy for this being a rare interaction with a black man or is this reflective of something much weirder? Well, if you’ve seen the trailers you know it’s the latter but there’s enough ambiguity there to make it interesting.
Lil Rel Howery plays Chris’ friend Ron who’s a TSA employee. He’s this film’s version of Dick Hallorann from The Shining, being the sane friend much more aware of what’s happening at the big house our main protagonists are trapped in despite spending most of the movie far from the action. Howery is a comedian, though, and his scenes are played for comic relief—in these the director seems much more in his element and I think the film might have worked much better with a comedian in the role of Chris, going for a tone somewhat like Shaun of the Dead that’s more of an even fusion of comedy and horror.
Catherine Keener comes off as effortlessly natural as always, which is what helps make her character so effectively creepy. Though, as I said, there is a subtle misogyny in the film that manifests particularly in her and another character whose identity I won’t spoil. Suffice to say, I read another of Peele’s influences was The Stepford Wives but, when the film isn’t commenting on misogyny, having all the women inexplicably robotic in Get Out comes off as odd, particularly with Chris’ preoccupation with his mother’s death which is there much more to create an implicitly undeserved sense of guilt in him than it is to establish any discussion of victimised women. The white male villains, by contrast, have much clearer, human motives, albeit despicable.
The film establishes a few things in the beginning that don’t make sense when revelations come near the end—for example, you may have seen the odd black servants in the trailers. When we learn the sinister truth, it actually makes no sense that these people are working as servants. The film could have benefited by going through a few more drafts, I think, but as it is it still has good points.
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Behind the gentle grey of eyebrow haze
A dreaming shade approached a peril spaced
Out of her gourd, the groovy book for days
Was open on her lap, its binding laced.
The mantis helicopter shook the bud
Before the flower took the driver’s seat
Inside a silver jet with violet HUD
A fragile dream balloon took shape with heat.
A cynic’s sleep deprived all sex of hope
Delayed all sense from light; a cup of tea,
Ascends in tapered hand, behold the scope
Of arcing flares and wilful wrecks to sea.
A breeze would warm the dark, developed shore
Where warping wood revealed a quiet door.