I was reminded of two other pieces of entertainment when watching Get Out last night – one was the Southern Gothic horror/thriller Skeleton Key, a movie that I quite enjoyed, and Dan Simmons’s horror novel Carrion Comfort, the audiobook of which I’m currently finishing up. If you haven’t watched or read either of these, to tell you what they’re about would give away the key plot point of Get Out, but chances are you’ll figure it out around the same time I did, which was round about the time the black cars start arriving at the Armitage estate. This doesn’t mean the movie isn’t worth watching: it is. Is it horror, though? For me, that’s highly debatable.
My daughter gave this movie a solid 5 when she watched this in the theater, and if I recall correctly, it had become her favourite horror movie. She and I don’t always see eye to eye on movies, but close enough for me to wonder what the fuss was about. I remember my first question to her was if the tone was anti-white, because the previews made it seem like it could have gone in that direction. She said no, but the reveal moved a little in that direction. If it’s the same scene I’m thinking of, I would agree that it does, but also agree that it only does so “a little”. I have much bigger criticisms of the ending than what I had picked up on when it came to race.
The movie is written, directed, and co-produced by Jordan Peele, one half of the successful comedy team Key and Peele, also writer of the movie Keanu, which I’ve yet to see. Of the two things that stood out to me positively about this movie is that Peele is clearly a smart moviemaker. I don’t know how much, if any, help he would have had on Get Out, but he clearly has some directing chops. There isn’t much I can complain about on the directorial side. He has a lean, economical style that doesn’t slip into pedestrianism. The action and the camera moves along well, with a good balance of shots throughout. It genuinely feels like the work of someone who’s been making movies for a number of years. The writing is good too, providing some twists along the way, but at no time does the writing ever rise above merely “good”. Still, I’ve seen a lot of movies written by bigger “names” that are mostly garbage, populated by ill-defined characters and contrived plots. The works of Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman spring to mind. Peele is already ahead of those guys on the strength of Get Out.
The other standout for me was British actor Daniel Kaluuya in the lead role of Chris Washington. Kaluuya has a string of British TV appearances that include Black Mirror and Dr. Who, but has appeared in Kick Ass 2, and Sicario, to name a couple, and has a role in the upcoming Marvel movie Black Panther. In Get Out, he’s terrific to watch as Chris, a young up-and-coming photographer who has a cute, but plucky white girlfriend Rose, played by Allison Williams, daughter of the now-disgraced NBC news anchor Brian Williams. Kaluuya physically reminds me a little of Michael Jackson from around his Thriller era, neither written or played as a stereotypical “black male”. Chris is just a regular guy, and the point that Peele makes in the early scenes when the couple go to visit her upper-middle class family, is that many white people just don’t get that concept. There are some intentionally awkward moments in the script when the Armitage family attempt to identify with Chris using some cultural aphorisms, “Know what I’m saying”, relating a story about Jesse Owens, mentioning how Obama was the best president of all time. All things that, if the Armitages felt they really were on the same playing field as Chris, wouldn’t be needed. When the black cars roll up to the house, and the Armitage’s friends get out for their annual event, this is when the movie takes its turn into the main plot – though arguably, it had already happened due to a brief (and overwritten, I thought) scene between Chris and Missy, Rose’s mother, played by Katherine Keener. During this extended event, there are a lot of hints dropped as to what is actually happening in the movie, and they’re big and unfortunately obvious moments. A scene with the only other black guest at this event made the direct connection to me between the movie and the Dan Simmons book, especially the effect of a cameraphone flash.
The movie doesn’t run out of steam, which is good. Peele allows the plot to take a breather at the end of act 2, but the climax ramps up the stakes and the action, and the final scenes are well done. A couple of actors playing supporting roles affected my viewing of the movie, to be sure. As Chris’s friend, Lil Rey Howry is funny as the movie’s comic relief – his scenes never feel forced or shoehorned into the plot, and his screen presence is funny and relaxed. In contrast, Caleb Landry Jones (Byzantium) who plays Rose’s brother Jeremy, is a presence I just didn’t like, and that’s mostly due to the actor, whom I absolutely cannot stand. If there’s one thing I hate watching in a movie it’s an actor who is trying too hard, and in Jones’s case, not only is he trying too hard, it feels like he’s trying too hard to channel Johnny Depp. Every time he appeared onscreen the movie suffered – in a small way, but annoying to me all the same.
The mildly anti-white sentiment I felt in the latter half of the movie can be interpreted as that, but it can also be seen as a criticism of white appropriation of black culture, if that’s a thing. Prejudice comes n all forms, and in all degrees, and there’s enough of it in Peele’s script to suggest that it’s the sole reason he came up with the story. Still, these thematic elements are only going to get true racists riled up, and in a way they’re kind of refreshing to see, because they’re done in such a way to invite discussion, and not an angry debate – we need more of that right now.
© Andrew Hope 2017