Get Out has been touted as a horror film crossed with a comedy. More accurately, it’s a dark comedy or a thriller. The reason I argue this is because the film spends less of its time trying to scare you than it does focusing its energy on following you out of the theatre, into your life where it unflinchingly compels you to notice the casual racism you witness and take part in.
Directed by Jordan Peele (of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele), the film feels like an extension of one of the show’s sketches, but focused more on their convicting and provocative brand of humour, and less on the simpler, whimsical tone it sometimes turns to.
Unlike most horror films,Get Out doesn’t try and fail to hide a story’s mystery, it lets it seep all the way through the film and uses this to take the edge off of the scares. To call the film scary by any means is inaccurate, at its worst it is disconcerting (definitely unnerving at times), but it was also always possible to determine what the scare was going to be. Peele makes sure that when we are at our most tense or frightened, instead of breaking the tension by screaming in fear, we start to laugh. By foiling its own scares, Get Out lessens the possibility of its audience getting distracted and seeing the film as typical horror. It’s obvious that the absurdity of the racial tension throughout the film is the main subject of focus.
Chris Washington, played by Daniel Kaluuya, is an aspiring photographer from New York who faces racism in all his interactions throughout the film. At his girlfriend’s parents’ upper-class estate for a party, he stumbles through awkward conversations with the hosts’ “very white” friends and even attempts to cut the visit short due to the tension. His only relief from the casually racist encounters comes by way of frequent calls to his other black friend (notably a TSA agent) back home in New York. Despite the distance between them, both commiserate together.
The only encounters Washington has that are free of racism are with his girlfriend and with a man who also happens to be blind, but even these characters turn out to be something darker altogether. A common theme runs through this film: you can’t really trust anything at all. I suspect this mistrust isn’t entirely new to most who encounter racism must experience.
Get Out is well made and technically very well done. It uses all the classic lighting and technical tricks that the horror genre usually invokes and none of it felt cheap. Most of the rising action of this film lulls the audience into compliance; it mildly sets the stage, but drives the plot home with force. Once relaxed, the audience is slowly lowered into the horror that sits waiting at the heart of the film. The mise-en-scene of the film was fairly sparse, which made it easy to watch but at the same time charged any obvious object as a semiotic beacon for meaning, creating tension in every scene. This is most cleverly exemplified by Washington when he stuffs bunches of cotton (brilliant!) into his ears to avoid the hypnotic trigger he is regularly subdued by, avoiding his likely demise.
Get Out is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Psycho in that it wasn’t actually all that scary, nor was it really meant to be, it was just brilliant filmmaking coupled with a great narrative. Get Out, however, adds a good dollop of truly crucial social commentary on top of being a well made, well played film.