Any comparison between Jordan Peele’s, yes of Key and Peele, new horror movie Get Out and The Stepford Wives is not only apt, it’s intentional. Peele has said in interviews that he has always loved the dystopian feminist 1975 horror film, and felt that a treatment of a similar script using black and white people instead of men and women could work. He thought of the idea in 2008, right when Barack Obama had been elected into the Presidency and many were declaring racism dead in the United States due to this fact. Now 9 years later his vision is finally hitting the multiplexes and is possibly even more apropos now than it was then, though it certainly has a very different spin to it.
The storyline of Get Out gives us Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), an interracial couple, he’s black and she’s white, who have been together long enough that she is now taking him to meet her wealthy parents for the first time at their palatial and far from the beaten path home by spending a weekend there together. Despite Rose’s assurances that her parents (played wonderfully by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) aren’t racist, Chris feels something is wrong from the first moment he arrives. To say any more than that is to enter into spoiler territory, but I don’t think it’s any surprise to say that Chris’ feelings are absolutely spot on.
Jordan Peele both wrote and directed Get Out, but he does not appear in the movie even in so much as a cameo, so you would expect this to have some humor to it. While Get Out does definitely showcase Peele’s incredibly sharp and unflinching wit from beginning to end, there is nothing in this film which would classify it in any way as a comedy. It has moments of levity, sure, but this is a horror thriller through and through. The way Peele’s signature wit is displayed here is through his sly commentary on race which seems to be obvious until you realize that there are many layers and levels to his themes which have been subtly but surely making their way into your consciousness as you watch.
Peele is not condemning more conservative and overt racial hatred in the film, but rather he is pointing directly at liberal racism, and as a liberal I can say that Get Out definitely does its job well, though to say more is to, again, enter into spoiler territory. It also interestingly speaks to an underlying fear in the black community of white people, not just distrust, but fear, and particularly of well-off white collar professional white people. I don’t know if this was intentional on Peele’s part, as I haven’t heard him mention that element of the film in his talks on it, but I thought this added another very interesting dimension to the film well worth some thought alongside the themes of liberal racism.
This is Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, and his second feature film length writing project after last year’s Keanu, but you would never be able to tell as every single element of the film is handled at the very least competently, and most often masterfully. The script is Get Out‘s high point, and while it’s seriously early in the year to talk about best of anything in any way, I predict this script is one that will still be remembered at year’s end. It’s witty, thoughtful, tense, with sharp dialogue and excellent pacing. Perhaps the only thing it lacks is strong character development, but since it’s a story that focuses on one specific event over one weekend that can largely be forgiven.
The acting is excellent for the most part, though Allison Williams as Rose and Caleb Landry Jones as her brother Jeremy can both fall a little flat much of the time. Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as Rose’s parents Whitney and Dean are the highlights of the film, being charming and parental while still having a sinister air about them. They are constantly unsettling, but despite this you still understand why people would want to be in their company, or at least would think themselves silly for finding anything less than charming about them. Daniel Kaluuya could have been a little better as our leading man, Chris, but he does what needs to be done to show himself as a sympathetic lead. I did find myself rooting for him and putting myself in his position most of the time throughout Get Out, but his performance was inconsistent enough that I found the spell where he was concerned broken from time to time, which is what unfortunately keeps this movie from being truly great and merely very, very good.
The cinematography in Get Out is well handled, even if it’s never awe inducing. It serves its purpose without ever calling attention to itself. The art direction and practical effects in the film are also handled quite well, again never really calling attention to themselves in any way outside of doing exactly what they need to do.
The section below is a more in depth discussion of Get Out’s themes, and so include some pretty major spoilers. I am going to use white text to write it, so highlight the blank area below to read this section, or just skip to the final recommendation if you don’t want any spoilers.
Jordan Peele’s condemnation of liberal America is the most fascinating element of the film, and one I will have to think on a lot more before I truly come to any conclusion, and the fact that I can and want to really is the sign of a fantastic script. Peele seems to be saying here that liberal America’s fascination with black culture, while it doesn’t have the outright hostility, anger, and hatred contained in conservative America, is just as insidious. He seems to be saying that liberals don’t understand black culture any more than conservatives do, but that they still seek to control it with incorporation with white culture rather than through forceful dominance.
This also explains why I feel the movie has a, perhaps intended, perhaps not, subtext of black fear of whites, well more than just a subtext since this is a horror movie about whites trying to capture and control black people, but I’m not sure that’s what Peele intended thematically rather than just as a necessary plot element. Is it a reasonable fear? Absolutely. There is no doubt that even the most well-intentioned of liberals would still feel more comfortable if everyone acted just like they do, it’s human nature to feel that way, and to say white culture is the dominant culture in the United States is so obvious a statement as to be insulting.
Final recommendation: Jordan Peele’s first foray into horror and into directing is everything a horror movie should be. It uses its plot and tension as a mirror into very real world cultural issues and insecurities. It isn’t perfect, but it is incredibly thoughtful. The acting isn’t always the best, and the horror is more creepy than scary, but I guarantee this film will leave you thinking about it for days on end afterward and could very well change or solidify your personal views on some very important subjects surrounding race and culture.