*. Get Out was the big buzz movie of 2017, and follows the big buzz thriller of 2014, Gone Girl, in being a fantasy on a leading water-cooler issue (race instead of gender battle lines this time out). I liked Get Out more, a lot more, than Gone Girl because it’s put across with more talent, energy and conviction in just about every department. And I do think Get Out is a great movie. But if you take away the race angle, I don’t think it’s anything new.
*. By the way, the twist or basic premise behind the evil plot in Get Out is really very good. You know this affluent, twenty-first century version of the American gothic family is creepy as hell and up to something, and what it turns out to be is both plausible (judged on its own terms) and thematically apt. The way it works also makes a second viewing even more enjoyable than the first, which is something I don’t say about a lot of movies. So I’ll provide a spoiler alert here. Don’t read these notes if you haven’t seen Get Out yet.
*. Let’s start with race. Writer-director Jordan Peele wanted to expose the post-racial lie of the Obama era, by which (I think) he means the hypocrisy of white “liberal” America. Fair enough, though I don’t know how representative the members of this particular country club are of that demographic. I think the movie also pulls a bit of a dodge with its response to Chris’s agonized question “Why black people?”
*. Get Out supplies a number of answers. Once you’ve tried black you’ll never go back. Black is the new black. Every black man is a super athlete. With all they have going for them, why wouldn’t some aging white moneybags pick a black chassis for his next life?
*. But how convincing are any of these explanations? It’s worth noting that when asked the question directly the blind art dealer who has purchased Chris says he doesn’t care about race at all but only wants Chris’s eyes. This is nonsense, since everyone has eyes. But then, the dealer is colour blind, literally.
*. I still have trouble with the idea of a bunch of rich old white folk wanting to be black. The script tries hard to explain some of it. Grandpa always wanted to be a physical specimen and held a special grudge against Jesse Owens. Grandma only wants to keep a clean house and help out in the kitchen. They’re both just role-playing as domestic servants. He likes chopping wood and nobody tells her what to do. OK. But still. Why black people?
*. There are other answers the movie doesn’t adopt. Because missing black people won’t be as missed as missing white people. Because they’re seen as being less than fully human and so appropriate test subjects for the Coagula treatment. Because black men are easily seduced by white women. Get Out doesn’t go down any of these roads, at least very far.
*. But even though there are still some awkward questions about this part of the movie, I don’t think they’re that troubling. Enough is done for us to buy into the film’s dominant metaphor of a futuristic form of slavery, which works right down to the slave auction using bingo cards. (I did wonder why they were using bingo cards though.)
*. Race aside, it’s a pretty standard horror film in a lot of ways. I was even expecting to see an overhead shot of the car driving out to the parents’ house but I guess they couldn’t afford it. That said, the familiar horror tropes are all nicely adapted to the movie’s theme. Right from the opening scene, where instead of a girl out walking alone we have a young black man, and when we first see the headlights of a car behind him we’re actually afraid that it might be the cops.
*. Get Out is full of fun stuff like that. It’s no accident, for example, that Chris escapes slavery by picking cotton. But the cotton ear plugs aren’t just symbolic, they make perfect sense. Peele wanted to make a movie where the hero wasn’t an idiot and I think he succeeded. Every step of the way we can understand why Chris is acting the way he does. And, given the film’s premise, everything that happens is entirely logical. It’s a really well crafted script and a pleasure to watch unfold even on repeated viewings.
*. Some pruning helped. In particular there was originally a lot of back story about the organization, which apparently Peele envisioned as having a history going back to the Templars (they were even dubbed the Red Alchemist Society). That is, apparently, where Jeremy’s helmet comes from. I’m very happy Peele cut all this, as I don’t see what sense it would have made. Didn’t Roman Armitage (Grandpa) invent the process? They certainly couldn’t have been doing it, or anything like it, back in the Middle Ages.
*. Less is more in other ways as well. The violence is abrupt and usually presented with very quick edits that left me wondering if they’d even had to use squibs. Usually we just cut to the after effects of violence. Well, they did use squibs at the end, but even there the gore is just flashed on the screen.
*. The less-is-more approach pays off very nicely at the end as well with the house burning down. Usually this is done in spectacular fashion, but I’m guessing they didn’t have the money for that so instead we get something more effective: a house slowly filling with smoke. It’s a little thing, probably dictated by budget concerns, but it seemed fresh and it worked well.
*. This was Peele’s first feature and he came to it out of a comedy background. It’s been noted before how closely related comedy and horror are in terms of their dependence on timing, whether it be for setting up a joke or a scare. But the material here is also very well suited for someone with a comic background.
*. I don’t want to say Get Out is a horror comedy. It isn’t, though the scenes with Rod the indefatigable and resourceful TSA agent do provide comic relief. Instead, it’s a “horror movie [with] . . . a satirical premise” (Peele), and that premise has to stay just sinister and threatening enough without becoming absurd. The temptation to play some of it broad must have been great, but was resisted.
*. This was the same temptation faced by the producers of The Stepford Wives, the movie that Peele was most aware of as an inspiration. There were all kinds of problems when making the 1975 version of Ira Levin’s novel, with no one quite sure of what tone was being taken, leading to uneven results. When it was remade in 2004 a comic approach was fully embraced.
*. In Get Out the satirical premise could have been played for laughs. A group of young black actors playing the Stepford Brothers is a great premise for a skit. And yet the results are more unnerving than funny. The goofy, pressurized blankness on the faces of Walter (Marcus Henderson), Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and the transformed Dre (Lakeith Stanfield) is fascinating to watch. I don’t think Peele is a particularly stylish director, but he knows enough to let great faces do their work. He gives them all the screen they need, especially his lead Daniel Kaaluya, and they work it wonderfully.
*. It’s a seamless film that never skips a beat and is filled with moments that are hard to forget. The silent bingo auction. The house of guests falling quiet as Chris goes upstairs. Georgina flying into a rage at how Chris has ruined her house. Jeremy as Napoleon Dynamite’s brother all grown up, his dreams of becoming a cage fighter now awaiting a vicarious realization. Rose eating her Froot Loops and drinking a glass of milk in bed, using a black straw, before transforming herself into the Great White Hunter: the stuffed lion chasing down Chris’s runaway buck.
*. I think Get Out is one of the small handful of movies that get made in any given year that will really last, and will still be talked about fifty years from now, assuming we’re still talking about movies fifty years from now (which I very much doubt). What’s more, I don’t think this will have anything to do with its message on race in America. It will be because it’s a really effective suspense thriller with a tight script and some great performances. I’m just left wondering why Hollywood should find this to be so hard.