Jordan Peele’s Get Out would not have been green-lit in any year but this one. Had someone described the premise of this film to me a few years ago, I would not have believed them- that not only does this film exist, but that it is a tremendous hit both critically and commercially. And it’s a blessing, really, because if Get Out had been released two years ago it might have been more polarizing if it had even been released at all. The fact that a film with such a supposedly controversial premise has done so well is a testament both to how good this movie is and, very likely, due to the current political climate. It’s a daunting task to create a thought-provoking and genuinely scary film that can include humor sparingly and with purpose, but Jordan Peele has pulled it off.
Get Out is not a “horror comedy”. It is a horror film with moments of comic relief to keep the audience grounded. The humor in this film will come from one of two sources: the uncomfortable familiarity of upper middle class white culture, or Lil Rel Howery as audience surrogate Rod Williams. Rod’s job is to act as the voice of reason most horror movies are missing. See this movie in theatres while you can, because part of the experience is developing this camaraderie with the other viewers through Rod. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that warranted applause at three separate scenes.
Get Out pays homage to films like The Stepford Wives and A Clockwork Orange, but I think it bears the most resemblance to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, at least in tone. The cult-like mentality of the Armitage family and their associates is over the top while maintaining palpable tension, and Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) plays the role of “Rosemary” in that this cult wants to use his body for their own selfish purposes, and they spend most of the film attempting to gain his trust in order to weaken him mentally and physically. If Rod existed in Rosemary’s Baby, we might have had a different third act. Unlike Rosemary, Chris actually succeeds in escaping their clutches. That’s the other refreshing thing about this film: it has a happy ending. And on top of that, the happy ending isn’t due to a fortunate coincidence- Chris manages to get out because he is intelligent, which is somewhat of a rarity for a by-the-numbers horror film. He is able to defeat the Armitages with physical force, yes, but he does so with ingenuity. He is a compelling character (also rare for horror protagonists) with an arc. We want to see him succeed and he does, and that’s an underrated element that makes this movie work as a popcorn flick.
Old racist tropes are flipped on its head, such as the notion that black men “prey” on young white women. Here, it is quite the opposite. The young white woman acts as bait to lure unsuspecting black men into a trap. Rose (Allison Williams) knows this, and tries to use it to her advantage at the end of the movie in a “helpless white victim” performance to make Chris appear to be the attacker. But what makes this film uniquely modern, setting itself apart from other films about prejudice, is its portrayal of an updated racist villain. The Armitages are not members of the Klan, they don’t wave confederate flags, and they seem to truly believe that black people are “superior” physically and that it is an advantage in this day and age to be black. They “would have voted for Obama a third term” and “hate how it looks” being a white family with black housekeepers. They say things that aren’t “explicitly” racist (at least at first) but only seem to indicate that they have been sheltered and are ill-informed about things like privilege and micro aggressions. The Armitages represent a new monster: the liberal elite. People who claim to “love” other cultures but only associate with them when they feel threatened. These are people who truly believe they are liberated and distance themselves from the more easily identifiable racists. They love and envy blackness, and wish to harness it for themselves. What Jordan Peele is trying to express isn’t that racism is bad (we already knew this), it’s that racism can be subtle and shouldn’t be ignored no matter how harmless it may appear. There’s no such thing as “positive racism” and Get Out presents an outcome of fetishization and willful ignorance of privilege.