Just saw a film that’s been out for a few weeks, written and directed by Jordan Peele (half of the comedic duo “Key & Peele”) called “Get Out” (2017). The movie stars Brit actor Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington, a young African-American photographer, who goes for a weekend in the country to meet the family of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage, played by Allison Williams.
What follows is a sly, humor/horror hybrid reimagining of 1967’s “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?” but without that movie’s moralizing. “Get Out” doesn’t do any of that. No speeches. No grand insights. No solutions. It tells a story; an uncomfortable story, but that discomfort exists because it comes from a brutally honest place. Played for contextual humor and horror perhaps, but honest nevertheless.
**** Now, I truly don’t want to spoil this movie for those who haven’t seen it yet, but spoilerish remarks may lurk ahead, so reader’s discretion is advised. *****
After a seemingly unrelated abduction prologue sequence, the movie switches gears & tone with Chris & Rose’s trip to meet her parents. The journey through the idyllic countryside is laced with foreboding; an accident involving a deer in the road, an encounter with a racist cop, etc. These things are almost like the obstacles in the path of the ‘hero’s journey’ in classic mythology.
Anyway, we soon ‘meet the folks’, Dean and Missy; played with downright painfully earnest progressiveness and openness by Bradley Whitford (“Bicentennial Man”) and Catherine Keener (“The 40 Year Old Virgin”) respectively. We also meet their son Jeremy, who reminds me of a drunken, more slovenly version of the late Heath Ledger (played by a bitter Caleb Landry Jones).
Also residing in the Armitage home are also a live-in gardener and maid, Walter and Georgina, respectively played by Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel (Gabriel is alternately terrifying and heartbreakingly conflicted). Both are black, which is something that Dean immediately apologizes to Chris for; the ‘old cliche’ of black servants in the home of a wealthy white family. But the situation is much worse than that, of course…
And to add to Chris’ discomfort, the weekend of the meet just happens to coincide on the day of the ‘big family/friend party’ (but of course!). A seemingly endless parade of privileged white folks and an oddly acting black male guest whose Vincent van Gogh-ish clothing, much older wife, and conflicted actions/words conceal the crux of the movie’s ‘big reveal’; a reveal which, like 1960’s “Psycho” with Norman Bates’ mother, is both horrific and audacious.
Suffice it to say, Chris learns the meaning behind the movie’s title. Something his best friend (and overly proud TSA agent) Rod (Lil Rel Howery) warned him about, since Rod is an avid conspiracy believer. Rod provides much of the more overt humor of the movie, and gleefully scene steals at every opportunity (and that’s not a problem; he’s an ideal tension breaker).
The movie’s hybrid horror/comedic nature recalls an unrelated film for me; 1996’s “From Dusk Till Dawn.” No,”Get Out” is not about crime sprees and vampires, but it’s a similar mix of seemingly unrelated genre crossovers. FDTD combined balls-out, high octane crime-drama with supernatural (downright gothic) horror. “Get Out” is an equally unusual comedy of manners mixed with dark conspiracy horror, and it works very well indeed.
**** Okay, at this point, SPOILERS ARE UNAVOIDABLE, so… last chance! ****
But in between the horror/humor, there is a lot of sly commentary about modern racism on all fronts; Rose listening to the uber-white “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack on her earbuds, Dean wishing to Chris that he could’ve voted for a third term for Obama (an increasingly cliche soundbite even if it IS true, given what we wound up with last November), Walter and Georgina speaking in incredibly unhip ‘white’ language, etc. That undercurrent of implicit racism and cultural divide runs through the movie like a live wire; ready to shock you in your complacency at any moment.
It’s also telling that the Armitages’ seemingly don’t have racist mistrust regarding Chris’ intentions towards their daughter Rose; quite the opposite, in fact. Usually parents are just a tiny bit distrustful of ANY new boyfriend their daughter brings home, regardless of race; but not the ‘huggable’ Armitages. This is an interesting left turn; insidious racism in the faux progressiveness of loving parents. They don’t see Chris as a prospective son-in-law… they see him as a commodity.
What I wanted to say earlier and what I can say here now, is that the movie is a hybrid of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” and Rock Hudson’s “Seconds”; the 1966 John Frankenheimer directed, Rock Hudson-starring science fiction classic about a wealthy middle-aged man who ‘buys’ a new identity and life, via plastic surgery. But in the case of “Get Out”? That second chance is not offered by plastic surgery, but by appropriating a healthy body; literally inserting the old brain into the new body and suppressing the vestigial remains of the old body’s persona. Blacks once again becoming a commodity for whites to use and sell for themselves… the horror of slavery given the Grand Guignol treatment in the post-Obama age; black bodies being ‘slaved’ to white will. It subliminally calls to mind a campaign trail Trump calling out to a black supporter, “there’s my African American.”
One of the more terrifying moments in the movie is the ‘silent auction’ disguised as a bingo game, where we see Dean literally taking bids for Chris’ body (!). Not a word is spoken by Dean 0r his lily-white friends, who simply hold up coded bingo cards; which makes the scene all the more blood-curdling.
The idea of black people being sold and used in this way calls to mind the real-life horror of Jeffrey Dahmer; the well-known 1990s cannibal who preyed largely on gay black males. Dahmer’s story was the sexual dysfunction of a nerdish, white, midwestern male being played out in other young men’s flesh, blood and bones. Dahmer is even half-jokingly referenced by Rod early on in the film, during one of his ‘black sex slave’ conspiracy rants. But the film is buoyant and smart enough not to dwell, often leaving your imagination reeling with possibilities…
If “Get Out” were done as a straight horror film, it could’ve easily been preachy and obvious (Kevin Smith’s recent “Red State” comes to mind). But as a horror-comedy, it’s able to give racism the middle finger and draw its own power from it. Laugh at your fears and they tend to shrink a bit. And in doing so, “Get Out” also gives its audience that power as well; the power to mock its own devil.
“Get Out” is a smart horror/comedy with a lot to say. I have a feeling this movie will gain an even larger cult audience than it currently enjoys in the years to come.
Don’t be left out of this one. Get IN.