"If there's too many white people I get nervous."
It is no secret that the best horror movies have contained an ounce of social commentary that lets them truly transcend their genres to become the masterworks they are. Whether it be turning a zombie apocalypse into a statement on race relations and consumerism with George Romero’s original movies, or commenting on the dismantled family unit amid all of the demonic horror in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Exorcist’. Unsurprisingly ‘Get Out’ follows a similar pattern.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is invited by his girlfriend Rose (Alison Williams) to spend the weekend with her parents at their private estate. At first, Chris reads the family's overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter's interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he never could have imagined.
To go back to what I said at the start though, the danger of incorporating some kind of commentary into your film is that it becomes more important than the story on hand. In such a case the movie can feel more like a lecture than a self-contained entity, especially if it is a message we have heard countless times before. But the directorial debut of Jordan Peele is not that at all. What is it is a brilliantly effective horror film with cutting edge social commentary that distinguishes it as one of the finest and most daring horror films of recent memory.
Though race relations are a key element of the movie’s effectiveness it is not the main crux of the filmmaking at hand, nor does it generalise these societal issues or simply echo the standard “all white people in the movie are evil so you as a white audience member can feel better about not being evil” message. It is not overtly aggressive but nor is it incessantly preachy. It is an engaging, complex and thought provoking examination of how overcompensating when handling race relations can still be a form of racism in that you are still seeing a person purely as a race, and not as an actual human being.
But politics aside this is still an expertly made horror film, especially from a directorial standpoint. It pays homage to numerous horror icons (Peele’s passion for the genre is obvious almost immediately) but also carves out its own distinctive visage to maintain a great sense of originality. On a technical level it is almost pitch perfect in how it builds its atmosphere, executed classic horror tropes to create an unnerving air of suspense and slowly builds its tension to simmering levels of anticipation. Then when the picture does explode it does so with such force that it is as entertaining as it is horrifying. The result of taking the time to expertly build up that tension means that the final onslaught of violence feels completely earned rather than gratuitous or over the top.
The only reason I have to state that it is almost pitch perfect however is due to how awkwardly ‘Get Out’ handles some of its jump scares. I have always maintained there is nothing wrong with the occasional jump scare but recent horror movies seem to think they are a crux to rely on, and execute them with loud, blaring music that feels contrived and unmotivated. For some reason ‘Get Out’ employs this once too often to a level where it did become distracting and somewhat baffling given that the rest of the film was so masterfully executed.
What surprised me even more about ‘Get Out’ was just how funny it was at times. That is not to say the movie is devalued by the comedy in any way, the scares still feel real but the comedy is so brilliantly integrated that neither one of them ever detracts from the other. Even when the film has a character who exists specifically as a source of comic relief in the form of Lil Rel Howery never takes away from the main framework of the story or feels forced into the plot. Every tonal element is balanced exceptionally well.
As for the rest of the cast, they all play their respective roles perfectly. With the exception of the protagonist nearly every character should instil an unspoken sense of tension as the environment around Chris becomes increasingly eerie in a way both he and the audience can’t quite put their finger on until the final revelation, and each cast member does this excellently. When it comes to the protagonist himself, I have seen David Kaluuya in a number of small roles from ‘Doctor Who’ to ‘Black Mirror’ and he has always shown promise to take on a bigger leading role. In ‘Get Out’ he lives up to that promise with a fantastic performance that like the movie around him reacts perfectly to the various shifts in tone, conveys a great sense of urgency when it needs to and allows the audience to gain empathy for Chris as a character thereby making them more invested in the suspense.
An expertly crafted horror film that is accompanied by some intricately smart social commentary, ‘Get Out’ is a superb place for Peele’s directing career to start.