Look, just because Get Out is a dark satire about white supremacy doesn’t mean that it should be classified as a “comedy.” You hear my Golden Globes voters? Sure, there’s comedic elements, but there’s also too many psychological torments, scenes of abstract and real horrors, and a reckoning with America’s racial politics that reaches all the way back to the days of slavery in its scope. All of this is to say that Get Out was one of the great discoveries of 2017, and it came from the unlikeliest of sources, veteran sketch comedy artist Jordan Peele.
Peele has given himself an extraordinary task for his debut feature film, an essay of American racial tensions that must deftly float between escalating terror, psychological unease, motor-mouthed comedy, and twisted satire. He not only manages to balance all of those various pieces, but he makes for a coherent, entertaining work that has me excited for what his next film will be. Get Out is a confident debut, the likes of which announce an actor as a legitimate director with a distinct perspective and artistry to spare.
We meet Chris (Daniel Kaluuya in a star making performance) as he’s planning on spending the weekend meeting the family of his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams, what an unnerving film debut). Despite living in upstate New York, these affluent white liberals live in a house that teeters uncomfortably towards a plantation. You get the immediate sense that things are “off” long before you meet the family’s black servants who operate more like androids than anything recognizably human.
If your hackles are raised in these opening moments, then you’re clearly clued into Get Out’s wavelength. The air is rich with racial anxiety and tension, no matter how much Rose’s parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) proclaim their liberal bona fides, be it their belief that they’d vote for Obama for a third term or praise for Tiger Woods. They believe what they’re selling, but they’re clearly uncomfortable with any form of blackness that can’t be held at a distance or commodified, controlled, or used for their benefit.
One of Peele’s best inventions is a gathering at the family home that initially plays like a gathering of the moneyed elites having fancy sandwiches and tea, but quickly takes on darker intonations. Chris is deluged with a series of interactions that range from commentary based purely in stereotypes to the merely inane to the straight-up patronizing. The entire sequence feels like it comes from a very real place, and Peele manages to make it both hilarious and unnerving in equal measure. This gathering is soon revealed as an auction for Chris’ body and Get Out’s flirtations with slave imagery comes to fruition. It’s a powerful gut-punch and bait-and-switch.
The full extent of the duplicity and villainy of Rose and her family is slowly doled out until it all comes bursting through in the third act. Get Out is careful to unravel its central conceit until this moment, and it manages to do so with the slow drip-drip-drip of escalating unease and tension. It’s a brainy concept for a horror film, white liberals auction off black bodies so that elderly white people can transplant themselves into them as a way of prolonging life or stealing their gifts, and also manages to make a tea spoon’s tinging against the cup into a terrifying sound on par with the alien screech Donald Sutherland unleashes in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Each plot twist must orbit around Chris, and Daniel Kaluuya’s performance is a wonder. He was rightly nominated for a slew of best actor awards for his work here. Whether it’s his tear-filled stare at a television screen, a heady mixture of abject terror and mind-bending disbelief, or the frustrated smile of yet another patronizing comment, Kaluuya’s reactive performance is a masterful bit of an actor in complete control. His best work may be a quick glimpse of betrayal and heartbreak as he realizes Rose lured him here like a lamb to slaughter. Get Out’s entire conceit needed a strong leading role to ensure it worked in addition to a confident directorial presence. Peele nailed it.