Cinephilia 002 | Get Out
So, firstly, there are no spoilers here. However if you intend on seeing Get Out. Don't read this. It's best to go into the theatre with no expectations.
Now that Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Missy and Dean. 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.
Get Out was brilliant, in concept and in execution. I went into this thinking it would be passable at best -- a few chuckles here and there mixed with the heavy handed racial commentary you'd expect from a film that, I assumed would basically be "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" meets "The Stepford Wives." Spike Lee (but infinitely more subtle) meets M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan...not The Happening, Shyamalan). Get Out has the DNA of an episode of Black Mirror. In fact, the lead of the film, Daniel Kaluuya, stared in an episode of the show, Fifteen Million Merits. Check it out if you haven't already.
It's rare that a thriller / horror film is any good these days, much less one as hyped as this one. But bruh...Get Out was a revelation -- a wholly unexpected, terrifying and appropriately comical / satirical experience, that plays with and subverts your expectations, while providing fresh, subtle, and uncomfortably sharp / poignant commentary, to boot. This was a really impressive first outing, from Jordan Peele, of Key & Peele fame. Peele has a knack for crafting sharp and hilarious reflections on race in America, but I had no idea that he was such an avid student of the horror genre. This guy did not come to play games.
- The pacing was right on the money -- a slow burn that didn't feel at all like a slow burn.
- Efficient and structurally rock solid in terms of its narrative. The rules of this world are clearly set up and pay off in ways that hit the, surprising yet expected, sweet spot. There are no narrative shortcuts -- no cheap jump scares (save for one), no lazy deus ex machinas, nor does the protagonist make unessecarily stupid decisions -- any missteps he makes are essential aspects of his character or come as a result of a lack of information, as opposed to the writer not knowing how to properly construct a scene.
- The twist is competent and functions on multiple levels. This is a film that rewards you upon a second viewing -- all the pieces were set up organically and hidden in plain sight. Dialogue and character traits carried weight and significance beyond the surface, with not much of it wasted as filler.
- The use of visual and auditory symbolism was a high note for me. Utilizing Childish Gambino's "Redbone", as a nice bit of foreshadowing, cautioning the audience to "stay woke." That was a particular standout for me.
If you watched the trailer, you possibly discerned that Get Out is about black people's fear of white people's fear of black people (did you get that?) -- the abject paranoia that we sometimes experience while in predominantly white and unfamiliar spaces. The film could have stuck with that as it's primary thematic focus and still succeeded as a relatively solid piece, but luckily for us, Jordan Peele decided to bring his A-game and digs much deeper, focusing heavily on less obvious, and arguably darker, aspects of race relations in America.
The brilliant thing about Get Out goes back to what I said earlier about the narrative subverting your expectations. Hollywood loves to make emotionally manipulative heavy handed movies about racism -- whether it be about the overtly racist social structures that burdened black people during slavery and Jim Crow, or movies about one-toothed hillbilly Neo-Nazi's and Klan members. These are films that essentially make the modern white person feel good about themselves -- as to say, "Isn't it great that we're not like those people anymore?"
Jordan Peele was smart enough to avoid the obvious message and construct a narrative that speaks to the more subtle aspects of systematic racism that black people know and understand well, but are harder to pin down with simple verbiage. The movie doesn't contain a group of villainous confederate flag waving rednecks out to enslave unsuspecting black people. If this were the case then there would be no narrative tension because the audience would already know what's coming. The story and it's caucasian antagonists' motivations are far more complex.
I, once upon a time, wrote a facebook post about how I'm not in the least bit worried about the KKK. I know they hate me and I can willfully avoid those people. I'm worried about the nice old lady down the street in the predominantly white upper middle class neighborhood that I live in, who could call the police on me while I'm running down her street, in a black hoodie, because I look "suspicious."
In addition to touching on eugenics, the institution of slave auctioning, white people's expectations of black behavior, and the painful history of white rape / appropriation of black bodies and culture (see. Thomas Jefferson or Kylie Jenner), Jordan Peele seems to want to point out that we're all a little racist and posses cultural blind spots that need filling.
Peele not only use horror to dissect the complex lingering effects of long standing colonialism, within a given population — on both the colonizer and the colonized — but also sheds light on the kind of benevolent racism that comes from polite, well meaning, unassuming, wealthy, often liberal minded, white people. The kind of racism that tries way too hard to make black people feel comfortable by pulling out a mental list of "black history facts" and "things that negroes like to do" and unloading it all in the form of misguided greetings, compliments, ice breakers, cheerful banter and unwanted physical contact.
The kind of racism that assures black people that, "I am most certainly not racist! I voted for Obama two times." The kind of racism that's oblivious to it's maliciousness. The kind of racism that genuinely comes from a good place, but because of willful ignorance, is none the less misguided and short sighted. The kind of racism that fetishizes black bodies. The kind of racism that looks down on us while simultaneously cherry picking desired traits — positioning us as something more akin to costumes to be worn, instead of fully formed human beings.
I feel like there will be a stark difference in the way that white people and black people process certain scenes. There are moments in the film that some white people might laugh at, passing it off as quirky parody, but to black people -- the barrage of micro-aggressions thrown at the protagonist -- will undoubtedly conjure a fuck ton of heavy emotions and disgruntled moans, leaving their palms sweaty by films end. There are moments where the expressions on the protagonist's face will be instantly recognized by, and all too familiar to, black people, but may go completely over the heads of everyone else. This is the first film I've ever seen that articulates the stress we feel of having to constantly having to defend our fears to those who don't understand. For us, Get Out is potent psychological anxiety trip, through and through, laying bare the uncertainty we feel towards the dozens of tiny everyday social interactions we have with white people — the mental negotiations we make within ourselves to avoid confrontation, and then go home to laugh about it amongst our own to keep from crying.
Get Out spoke to me on a viscerally emotional level. It truly unnerved me and masterfully contextualized an aspect of my experience as a black man in this country that is so often extremely difficult to articulate.
I hope that people who see the film come to understand its true depth as a modern fable and cautionary tale. It's a film that asks us to take a step back, look at ourselves and reanalyze how we choose to relate to, and treat one another. I'm impressed that it even exists, much less has had a successful wide release thus far.
No film is without flaws, and neither is this one, but Get Out succeeds on so many fronts and gets so much right, that it's flaws are small potatoes and do not affect the overall quality and potency of it's message and purpose.
Get Out stuck with me hours after I left the theatre. I can't stress enough how amazing it was -- a testament to the inherent value of black people telling their own stories -- and is destined to be a classic. This is an absolute game changer, not to mention, being arguably the first good black horror film ever conceived...like...ever.
Damn near perfect.
...but seriously, who threw that deer at the car though?