Get In to 'Get Out'!
As an amateur cabaret singer, I love a good mash-up. Putting together a couple of songs that might not APPEAR to be related and finding the linkages is often a revelation for me as the singer – and for the audience. There is great satisfaction in seeing an audience prick up their ears when something they have heard many times before gets a new spin.
And so it is with Jordan Peele’s – he of the comedy duo Key and Peele – debut as writer and director, ‘Get Out’. Peele clearly has people’s ears – and eyes – pricking up: his proto-horror film cum ‘post racial’ commentary with a strong dose of humor is a perfect mash-up for the moment. Regardless of your politics or your film preferences, this is a film that is thought-provoking, engaging and even funny – in an ‘I can’t believe I laughed at that’ way. And it will challenge some of your preconceptions about racial stereotyping – black and white.
‘Get Out’ is at its base a horror film of the Twilight Zone variety – more suspenseful than gory (until the end, that is). As a horror film, it is well executed – spooky characters, creepy house with locked basement, cult and eugenics references, and all set in the bucolic countryside of Upstate New York. The hook, however, is that the two lead characters are a young interracial couple off to meet the parents for the first time. What starts as a pretty straightforward ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ for the millennial, post-Obama age begins to careen off track once the couple arrives in the land of white privilege. The young man, Chris, has been warned by his friends in New York that this can only end badly: their interactions are a dose of black ‘boys in the hood’ banter that is familiar to Key and Peele fans, and the primary source of the film’s title. But Chris is an upwardly mobile young professional who refuses to believe in stereotypes, and he brushes aside both the warnings of his friends and the cumbersome attempts of his girlfriend, Rose’s, parents and friends to demonstrate their cultural enlightenment. Perhaps Chris should have listened more carefully.
I don’t want to get into spoilers, and revealing much more of the plot would probably do just that. Suffice it to say that Chris gets way more than he bargained for; that stereotypes exist for a reason; and that this is a horror film, after all. The spooky characters are spooky for a reason; and the Stepford personas of the only black characters in the countryside come from somewhere. All’s well that ends well, said the Bard; and this is no exception. But along the way we get some pretty good reasons to jump in our seats – and some pretty good reasons to question our beliefs.
For a very small budget, first film by an untested director, ‘Get Out’ has an excellent cast of recognizable actors. The only real newbie among the leads is Chris himself, played by Daniel Kaluuya. Kaluuya is an excellent anchor to the film: a strong, confident leading man who begins to question everything around him – until it is too late. As Chris’s girlfriend, Rose, Allison Williams of ‘Girls’ fame, is very good as well. She plays the innocent with such girlish charm through the first two-thirds of the film that the audience is actually quite shocked when she turns out not to be so innocent after all.
But the real spooky stuff comes from Catherine Keener as Rose’s psychiatrist mother and Bradley Whitford as her neurosurgeon father. THAT combination of professions, tucked away in a big old house on the lake with a locked basement should be the tipoff that it is meant to be. Both Keener and Whitford are a perfect blend of warm and welcoming parents tinged with something that’s just not right – the evil edge that proves to be the real core or their characters. Whitford is very good, but Keener’s creepy factor is off the charts and a perfect twist on her typical portrayals of goofy, loving earth mothers.
The comic relief – and the ultimate hero of the story – is Chris’s best friend Rod, played by LilRel Howery. Once again, Peele takes on stereotypes: Rod is a TSA agent at LaGuardia, and we immediately fix our minds on a type. But Rod is both good friend and well trained agent. Contrasting both the comedy and reality of a TSA agent using his training to track down the bad guys, Peele gives Howery some of the best laugh lines in the film – but also makes him the hero in the end. It is a microcosm of the brilliance of this film: nothing is as we think it is… but it is.
So what is ‘Get Out’? Horror film, comedy, political satire, cultural commentary? The beauty is that it is all of these things. Peele has tapped something that crosses boundaries – political, racial and cultural. The audience with which I viewed the film perhaps said it all – white and black, old and young, several young women with headscarves. This was an American audience watching a uniquely American film. No wonder it has blown by the cartoon characters and reinvented apes at the box office! Well done, Peele; get back in!