Every once in a while a film comes along that’s so damned scary you can barely believe it. Get Out is one of those movies. It’s not just a frightening concept, and it’s not just terrifically suspenseful. It turns society on its ear in a way that only the best movies can, and in a way that folks who are familiar with writer/director Jordan Peele’s comedy should probably have anticipated.
The comedy and horror genres might seem diametrically opposed at a glance but even though one exists to make you laugh and the other exists to make you squirm, they are functionally very similar. Comedians and horror storytellers both take their inspiration from unexpected and, frequently, uncomfortable observations about the world around them. They then tweak their observations and present them in such a way that even strangers in the audience can view society from the same angle. A good comedy can make you realize just how ridiculous the world is. A good horror movie can make you realize just how frightened you should probably be on a daily basis.
Get Out is the story of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a successful photographer who is going to his girlfriend’s parent’s house for the weekend. The catch – at least, as far as Chris knows – is that no one else in her white family knows that he’s black yet. It’s a set-up that has been mined for comedy many times before, most obviously in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and sure enough Jordan Peele ekes many uncomfortable chuckles out of watching Chris endure one awkward, racially-tinged comment after another from folks who at least claim to be progressive, even as they consistently reveal themselves to be at least casually racist.
The genius of Get Out is that, after an eerie introduction where a black man is assaulted in a white neighborhood, the audience knows that all of this “casual” racism is – somewhere, somehow, and in at least SOMEbody – masking genuine evil. It’s still funny but it’s an exquisite contradiction. We laugh because we know that a white man is going out of his way to tell a black person that he voted for Barack Obama, and that is the sort of thing people really do, but we also clench our armrests in horrified suspense because we understand that underneath that faux pas lies the real capacity for dehumanization and even violence.
Jordan Peele’s smart screenplay has some fanciful ideas, and eventually spins off into bizarre directions, but no matter how willing you are to accept the horrifying possibilities of hypnosis (for example), the underlying comment is clear and salient. However progressive our society currently is (and that’s up for massive debate), it’s still built on a foundation of exploitation and racism. Get Out transforms a conventional encounter into a nightmare scenario, where the façade of propriety is used to perpetuate the myth that everything is alright and that the evils of our past aren’t gradually evolving into the evils of our future. The characters are mostly too polite to say anything about it, and as you leave the theater you may find your fists clenched in righteous outrage about this and many other daily injustices.
Insightful and intense, fucking brilliant and fucking terrifying. It’s become a cliché to declare any movie “the [blank] that we need” but if anything, Jordan Peele’s Get Out is the kind of horror movie we DESPERATELY need right now. It translates our very real social concerns into dynamic horror entertainment, exposing our anxieties by ripping the flesh clean off of them, and then poking at the nerve endings just to make sure we still have the capacity to react to the serious issues we encounter every single day. That’s why we need horror. That’s why we need comedy. That’s why we need Get Out.
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Top Photo: Universal Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.