Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a masterful twist on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, one that chillingly cruises to a gloriously subversive conclusion. The 2017 picture is a social horror movie, with a screenplay by Peele and cinematography by Toby Oliver.
From a technical standpoint, Get Out is sublime. It is a horror movie that unpacks itself with uncommon grace, building on a series of uncomfortable situations and revealing a set of questions that likewise carry uncomfortable answers. Peele provokes a sense of disquiet; asking “just what the hell is going on here?” is part of the gloomy fun.
Daniel Kaluuya is Chris Washington. He’s dating Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) and is about to meet her parents. He’s concerned they don’t know he’s black. She assures him that her parents aren’t racist. Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) seem nice enough, but something’s off in their affluent country home.
Not only does Rose have an odd and challenging brother (Caleb Landry Jones), but the Armitages have a black housekeeper (Betty Gabriel) and a black groundskeeper (Marcus Henderson). Things go from weird to weirder after Chris is hypnotized by Missy and discovers the “Sunken Place.” And when a party gets underway, things reach a fever pitch.
Peele and Oliver do a tremendous job isolating Chris. He truly becomes a stranger in a strange land. This is illustrated best in his search for understanding. He approaches Henderson’s Walter and hopes to find a social touchstone, but this is not the case. Ditto for when he meets Logan King (LaKeith Stanfield).
Both situations are provoking, but Gabriel’s Georgina is really something. She has been (probably) unplugging Chris’ cell phone. He presumes a reason and she confronts him, contrite until the emotions attempt to escape from within. Gabriel’s performance in such a brief moment is astonishing.
Get Out shifts the audience from Chris’ sense of social and cultural drift to an overall mood of anxiety as the puzzle pieces put themselves together. Clues are presented, like a mysterious auction and the appearance of several older white men. Some couples aren’t quite right. Observations are made.
Peele leaves breadcrumbs, but there’s doubt along the way. Are Rose’s parents as well-meant as they seem or is something more sinister afoot? Is Rose’s display of power in the face of police authority really a case of deliverance for her black boyfriend or is the exhibition more self-aggrandizing than necessary?
The latter scene is compelling for several reasons. It displays her power. It exposes his lack of power. It proposes a white saviour waiting in the wings. In many cinematic cases, the element of Caucasian rescue for black characters has provided lenient if dumb luxury. In Get Out, this trope is rightly twisted into a pretzel.
Peele’s picture is carefully observed to the point that it becomes unbearable. A dinner scene is particularly painful, with excruciating tension prowling barely beneath the surface. Rose’s brother feeds Chris a raft of “compliments” pertaining to alleged physical prowess and the like, but the conversation is precarious.
Like all good if not great horror movies, Get Out turns on social and societal concerns. It overthrows the expectations of the audience, but it’s also an effective chiller. Its abhorrence of jump scares and conventional modern horror tropes is as refreshing as its caustic conclusion, illustrating a world in which true fear is always right within reach.