Review: Get Out

Get Out is a funny, searing and quite tense horror-comedy that (beyond an out-of-place plot point toward the end) does an excellent job of skewering and confronting racial barriers and awkwardness.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is nervous about meeting the family of his girlfriend Rose (Alison Williams), because they don’t know he’s black. On meeting parents Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), as well as weird brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), Chris is slightly placated, but gets a really odd vibe from the family and their almost too-nice behaviour. Regularly staying in touch with cynical friend Rod (Lil Rey Howery), Chris soon realises his paranoia isn’t really misplaced, and things get weird…

From American comedian Jordan Peele, who wrote and directed the film, Get Out is an uncomfortable yet hilarious watch, a great blend of tension and humour that still has a hell of a lot to say about the differences, prejudices and stereotypes brewing between Americans. Peele’s biting, satirical look at those working almost too hard not to be racist is one of the film’s strengths, including a garden party with a host of awkward and rich, older white folks spouting cringeworthy nonsense. In addition, Dean’s immediate statement that he “would have voted for Obama a third time” indicates what to expect – people overcompensating for something…

The funny thing is, the racial aspect is played upon and strongly so for a large part of the film, before that aforementioned “out-of-place” plot point, which somewhat takes the wind out of the proverbial sails. If Peele had maintained the bizarre tension and creepy undertones, I get the feeling it might have needed to become more reactionary and focused on race, where as where he takes the movie is more straightforward horror. There are good and bad things about this choice, and it does damage the film a little, though it also gives it a very different spin towards the end that probably means the comedy doesn’t seem out of place.

That weird and creepy tension is what gives the film its horror element (until it becomes more overt later). Mixing together a heady cocktail of uncomfortable racial differences, an evocative setting (both inside and outside the home) and a pair of unsettling performances from the family’s two black employees, Peele makes you laugh one second and your skin crawl the next. The comedy is both necessary and totally suited to the film, using it to puncture what could have been a much more uncomfortable plotline and give Chris and his friend Rod an easygoing and naturalistic friendship, which proves key.

Adding to the tension is the eerie and bizarre soundtrack by Michael Abels, using chanting and an unsettling score to really get to the viewer during those moments when Chris is beginning to question what’s really going on, while cinematographer Toby Oliver utilises the woods of Alabama and a ridiculously ornate, dark wood-filled home to conjure up foreboding and unease from the off.

Kaluuya is excellent as the calm Chris, very well displaying polite tiredness with the stereotypes and generalisations coming his way, and just as capable when the shit hits the fan – he’s good at expressing some emotional range too, as Chris is forced to confront his younger life in a powerful and unsettling scene with Missy. Alison Williams gives Rose that sense of the girl who doesn’t see race, but unfortunately doesn’t see how her community might see it, while Whitford and Keener are at turns welcoming, friendly and unsettling as the parents, Keener in particular fairly disturbing in that same scene with Kaluuya (to say more would spoil the plot).

The best of the rest include Lil Rey Howery, who steals the show as Rod – the comedic centre and remaining so even towards the end, operating almost as a connection to reality for Chris. The actor’s comedic timing and generally cocksure behaviour are an antidote to the all-too-earnest family. Stephen Root and Caleb Landry Jones make an impression respectively as a more aware member of the family’s community, and Rose’s brother Jeremy – Landry Jones’ shifty, uneasy performance brought to mind a creepy, younger Johnny Depp, which is more praise than criticism! Finally, Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel deserve a mention for their eerie, unhinged portrayals of the odd and disoncerting Walter and Georgina.

For a good laugh and a scare, as well as some genuinely unsettling tension, I’d recommend Get Out – it makes a strong point of confronting assumptions on both sides of the US’ racial divide, but tempers it with humour. It’s only the odd shift towards the end that lets it down, but then I understand the reasoning!

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