Beauty And The Beast and Get Out, have there ever been two such different high profile films released on the same unassuming weekend in the middle of March? Whilst one is a retelling of a, beloved, treasured old classic, the other promised to be a revolutionary work of satire that cuts deep in to the liberal social conscience and addresses age old themes that at the same time are long since passed yet over so present. Thanks to a delayed release in the UK, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut unfortunately arrived with the weight of incredible hype, would I love it as much I was being told I was supposed to?
In some ways yes, and in some ways no. It has taken me a couple of days to unpack my feelings about Get Out, but with some breathing space I think I have pinpointed exactly why they seem to be somewhat mixed. The film tells the story of Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a black man who makes a trip with his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her family for the first time, only to discover very quickly that all is not as it seems with regards to the few other black people that he encounters at the secluded woods estate. In terms of genre, the film is a quintessential, and wonderfully executed, horror/thriller/comedy, taking the audience on a cyclical journey of tension-jump scare-laughter from start to finish. Putting an entirely new spin on proceedings, however, is the fact that film is just as much about social horrors as it is ‘traditional’ horrors, with the theme of racism, both casual and overt, being the most prevalent character throughout. The audience finds themselves squirming just as much during painful ‘polite’ party scenes in which old white people manage to offend Chris at every turn, as they do when the secrets of the plot begin to reveal themselves and the true genre tropes and devices begin to dominate the narrative.
The root of my mixed feelings about Get Out stem from the fact that as a cinephile, horror and the narrative tropes associated with it are not particularly something that I cherish and admire. My enjoyment of the film is very much divided in to the first two thirds vs. the final third, with the first two being some of the funniest, most awkward, most enlightening, most bittersweet dark social humour ever committed to the big screen, and the final third falling in to some of the narrative and visual ‘silliness’ that often plagues a horror film’s conclusion. There are very few films of the genre that manage to maintain their tension and intrigue once the key reveal has been made, and I have to say that the guessing game played when watching the first half of Get Out is more fun than the weird, pseudo-science intricacies of the truth that is told in the second half. The conflict I’m experiencing with regards to this point is that I can completely understand and appreciate how the message and metaphor behind the plot is genius satire, but there is just something about the physical representation of it unfolding that doesn’t feel as razor sharp or poignant as the smaller, more ‘realistic’ moments earlier in the film feel. Again, I feel that this opinion is simply down to my personal lack of affection for the conventions of the genre, but I can’t help feeling that the rushed nature of the third act could indicate that Jordan Peele also took more enjoyment in creating and directing the earlier, more subtle stages of the picture too.
As protagonist Chris, Daniel Kaluuya does an absolutely brilliant job at portraying a character who, whilst bracing himself for a kind of prejudice that he knows all too well, also recognises that something much more sinister is afoot. The sheer amount of depth and nuance that comes from his piercing eyes and through small facial expressions is really superb, helping to increase the tension tenfold. Though the character does suffer from a touch of the ‘why haven’t you already gotten the fuck out of there’ trope, Kaluuya’s performance helps to keep Chris relatable and tangible throughout. To be perfectly honest, the more I talk about the other cast members and the characters they play, the more likely I am to spoil the plot for you, so I’ll keep it concise by saying that Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener and Caleb Landry Jones all do a fine job of playing the Armitage family, Chris’ hosts for the weekend.
On a metaphorical level, the family and their extended party guests embody everything that is terrible and conceited about white liberal America as a whole, an outward over-willingness to be ‘down with it’ conflicted by an internal need to always be highlighting the difference between ‘us and them’. Of course, the nature of Get Out means that the way this metaphor manifests is something all together more crazy and horrific than simply ‘causing offence’, but the comparisons are certainly there to be made by anyone who cares to read between the lines and underneath the mechanics of the plot. Special mention goes to Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ friend Rod, the definition of an audience surrogate in the story who is responsible for providing most of the film’s most comical moments. His comedy is broad and at times cliche, but this outlandish humour perfectly counteracts the dark, cynical humour of the main plot.
Overall, I think what I’m trying to say is that I enjoy the metaphorical message and stinging social satire of Get Out more than I enjoy the physical trappings of the horror genre that present them. I fear that my review has been too critical, because there is no doubt that the film is something very, very special. It’s a searingly biting piece of satire that injects enough accessible humour and traditional horror elements to appeal to a much wider, more mainstream audience than, for example, an indie drama about the very same metaphorical themes. I suggest you see it as soon as possible because, regardless of whether you absolutely loved like most or rather mostly loved like me, Get Out is a film that is going to be talked about for a very, very long time.