“Get Out:” A Horror Film for Modern Racism

dylyn-petersonBY DYLYN PETERSON
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong

It’s doubtful anybody was suspecting that comedian Jordan Peele, best known for his work on the Comedy Central show Key & Peele, would ever decide to make a horror movie, although anybody familiar with his work might have a guess as to its content.

“Get Out” is, very plainly, a movie with a lot to say about modern race relations in the United States. It doesn’t, however, go after the expected target.

As Variety puts it, “Get Out” is concerned with “the liberal white elite, who dangerously overestimate the degree of their own enlightenment.”

This critique is embedded in the plot of the film. The main character, Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington, is a photographer who has been dating Rose Armitage, as played by Allison Williams, for five months, and is headed to her parents’ mansion to be introduced.

His first concern, which sets the tone for the movie, is whether or not they know he’s a black man. She says they don’t. But once the couple arrives, it’s clear that, while he should be worried about the parents, the bigger issue may be their black servants, who speak and act rather antiquatedly.

For a cast of relative unknowns, the acting in “Get Out” is incredible. Kaluuya is oftentimes astonishing, and proves himself a veritable master of nonverbal communication. He conveys an incredible amount of information in a look or a gesture.

At first, I was very unimpressed by Allison Williams’s performance, but coming back to the film for a second time, she’s actually fantastic. Pay close attention to her reactions and you might be able to predict the film’s third act.

The writing and direction are excellent. Peele’s years in comedy have given him a keen sense of timing. Scenes last precisely as long as they should, build up stress and capitalize on it in ways horror cinema hasn’t seen something like it in years.

It helps, too, that the film uses humor in clever ways, not so much to lessen tension, but to keep it level for a while.

Although “Get Out” is extremely racial, and its antagonists are all white, I would struggle to say there’s anything racist about the film.

This is not to say that it isn’t political, because it is. Two large plot points hinge entirely on modern, left-leaning opinions on police brutality. This is especially apparent in the conclusion, in which Chris, after killing all of the villains in self-defense, is approached by a police cruiser while hunched over his bloody, half-unconscious evil “girlfriend.” She attempts to blame the situation on him, which for some was the scariest moment in the movie.

Rather than being about the classic evil, racist white people, however, “Get Out” seems to be more about subconscious prejudice and bias than anything else.

While the villains are engaged in a heinous scheme aimed squarely against black people, it seems to be rooted more in misguided ideas of aesthetics and biology than hatred. In fact, in analyzing their plot, which is complicated but ultimately boils down to swapping brains, it seems to primarily be a story about cultural appropriation.

The villains by and large seem to want to acquire and embody the black experience. The character in particular who would’ve taken over Chris’ body specifically wanted him for his eyes. While he was, ironically, a blind art dealer, it clearly goes a little deeper than wanting to regain his sight. The character, in pretty certain terms, desires Chris’s artistic experience of the world.

I think this angle becomes pretty clear when we see that the main victim of this plot – who was kidnapped in the opening scene and ends up unraveling the plot when Chris recognizes him – is a jazz musician. Anybody with a casual knowledge of music history can see the parallels there.

There is an equally good interpretation of the antagonists’ actions having to do with a desire to erase the black identity and effectively make black people white on the inside. Ultimately, the film gives ample food for thought on the topic.

Upon inspection, it’s actually incredible how many details in the dialogue, props, and performances are thematically significant.

It is remarkably classy that every item used to dispatch the villains was a symbol of upper-class white culture: a mounted deer head, a lacrosse ball, a gold letter opener.

The classiest thing of all, though, was the movie’s denial of becoming a bad revenge movie. Chris kills the villains because he needs to, not because he’s angry or cruel.

The whole thing might’ve been upended if Chris had actually strangled Rose in the conclusion, instead of just motioning to. It’s a strong statement that, for all the turmoil he’s been through, instead of being filled with rage or hatred, his character is still governed by compassion. He’s the same guy who felt awful about hitting a deer on the road in the opening minutes of the movie.

This, I think, makes him a much more compelling lead than we’ve gotten in a horror film in a long, long time.

Despite my apprehension towards doing so, I must award my second perfect rating in a row. I give “Get Out” seven lengthy-streams-of-tweets-from-celebrities-telling-you-to-see-it out of seven.

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