Over the weekend I went to see Get Out. It's gotten such good reviews and word of mouth has been so strong that I had high expectations. At the same time, as with any film collecting kudos, I was hoping the praise hasn't been excessive. I'm pleased to say I don't think it has been and that I enjoyed the film a lot.
I don't want to talk too much about the movie because the less you know going into it, the better. And nowadays it's so hard to see a popular movie without already knowing more details about it than you probably want to. I saw Get Out knowing not much more than the premise (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner crossed with The Stepford Wives is definitely not an inaccurate basic description), and I'm glad that's all I knew. Chris, a black photographer in Brooklyn, goes with his white girlfriend Rose to her parents suburban house for a weekend visit, and though he wonders how they'll react to his being black - since she hasn't told them that - she assures him it will be okay. It won't be a problem for her parents, she insists.
Of course, as Chris discovers, all is not okay. But it's not okay in a way that's puzzling. For awhile, and as the suspense builds, you can't quite put your finger on what's wrong.
Jordan Peele's film is impressive. It isn't just that he takes race and puts it dead smack at the center of a horror movie, but that he has full command of his loaded material. The dialogue, the jokes, pop. All those years doing comedy on MADtv and Key and Peele honed his timing to near perfection. In Get Out he mixes the comedy and horror (actually satire and horror) seamlessly. Scenes bristle with tension, with something off-kilter, and then he relieves that tension, temporarily, with a fright or a laugh or sometimes both at the same time. What's great is that you feel the dread building, you kind of sense where the story is going, but you don't know what the exact payoff will be other than some form of confirmation of the main character's fears. It's like a black person's worst nightmare come to life, but it doesn't happen in a backwoods redneck town or among raving ethno nationalists. There's a character named Roman in the movie, and I have to assume this is Peele's nod to Roman Polanski, a master at situating menace in ordinary surroundings. Remember seeing Rosemary's Baby for the first time? Could those nice old people in the building really be Satan worshippers? Peele's film has a similar ambiance, though here the menace revolves around race. And just as Rosemary's terror unfolds right in the middle of affluent Manhattan, this nightmare happens in a wealthy New York City suburb. It's a suburb where you'd think white liberals dominate, the sort of people who would've voted for Barack Obama a third time if only they could have.
Could this film be more attuned to the moment? Peele had Get Out written and cast, apparently, by early 2016, before the presidential election, but the results of that election and the whole idea of white backlash only make the film more relevant. Combine that relevance with how sharp and enjoyable the film is, and no wonder it's doing well. It speaks to the time just about perfectly. But it's also a film that should last, because it's good. Horror movies as social critique have a rich history (just a few examples, favorites of mine, and I'm focusing on horror films with laughs - Dawn of the Dead, They Live, The Host, The Howling), and Jordan Peele's Get Out should surely be a film added to that history.