At the festival premiere of his directorial debut and first foray into the horror genre, Get Out, Jordan Peele said that he set out to make a film that he had never seen before. He certainly achieved his goal: Get Out manages to not only present a brand new perspective on horror, but it also subverts classic genre tropes on its own terms.
All things considered, it’s a bit unbelievable that there hasn’t been a wide-release horror film centered on racism until now. Peele wastes no time with his version of a classically foreboding opening scene: A young black man wanders deserted suburban streets as a strange white car blasting odd music encroaches upon him, eventually slowing to a crawl and trailing behind him. The young man’s instincts kick in and he turns on his heel to walk away, but unfortunately, the driver of the mysterious vehicle has less savory plans.
It would be easy to write a whole essay about the opening scene alone, since it’s undoubtedly jarring to see a young black man in a well-lit, suburban neighborhood be depicted in the ominous manner of a teenager venturing into the wrong part of the woods. And that’s just the introduction.
Elsewhere, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) have reached the point in their relationship where Rose is ready for Chris to meet her parents, so they’re packing up for the weekend to head to the latter’s secluded lake house. There’s just one minor detail: Rose has yet to tell her white parents that Chris is black. Chris is wary of this, but Rose insists that her folks aren’t racist and that he shouldn’t worry. Though hesitant, Chris decides to take her word for it.
As soon as they arrive at the house, things go awry. In addition to the awkwardly racist microaggressions made by Rose’s father and brother (Bradley Whitford and Caleb Landry Jones, respectively), and an unsettlingly nonconsensual hypnotism session from Rose’s mother (Catherine Keener), Chris deals with a surprise family gathering that brings along more woefully oblivious—and at times, outright horrifying—social interactions. Oh, and one more thing: The only other black folks at the house are in the Armitages’ employ, and Chris’ interactions with them are no more comfortable or normal than his interactions with the family. Needless to say, everything isn’t as peaceful or color-blind as the Armitages want Chris to believe, and their sinister intentions are quickly revealed.
Overwhelming uneasiness quietly burrows its way under the audience’s skin and stays there, ratcheting up in direct correlation with the tension of Peele’s escalating, carefully crafted narrative. The white characters’ blatant (and sometimes not-so-blatant) misunderstandings of the black experience mesh fantastically with the eugenics-driven horror aspects of the film. Chris disregards his gut instincts and general discomfort in an attempt to get close to his girlfriend’s family, and in doing so, he finds himself at the mercy of a very talented hypnotist. Peele offsets this extremely anxious horror with some fantastic comic relief in the form of Chris’ best friend Rod (the hilarious Lil Rel Howery), whose sharp wit and quick thinking end up not only providing big laughs, but help save the day. It’s also refreshing to see a healthy and solid male friendship at the heart of a movie, especially one in this genre.
All in all, Get Out is a thoughtful, deeply unsettling nail-biter that will keep you on the edge of your seat and leave you questioning the status quo. Jordan Peele has proven himself a horror auteur to be reckoned with, and hopefully we will see not only more from him in the future, but also more of a willingness from other filmmakers to take bigger risks in their scarefests.