No matter how freaky the concept or content, reality is always more terrifying and disturbing than any horror movie could ever hope to be. It’s no wonder that so much of today’s popular cinema is escapist fare, and even the most successful of scary movies are funhouse or roller coaster rides tailored to make us jump or hide our faces in revulsion.
For decades, most of what constitutes American horror — at least the mainstream variety — has catered to audiences looking for an action movie climax to chase down any social commentary that might’ve cluttered the first two acts of the film. It’s a great way to train people to think they’ve had an exhilarating time for the price of their ticket, but after relating the scariest parts to your friends, the conversation is pretty much over.
Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is designed to spark parking lot discussion, and more beyond that. Much like the antagonistic forces in the type of films previously mentioned, “Get Out” follows you home and sticks to you, growing inside and attaching itself to your vital organs. There’s no denying the issues the film clearly presents, but enough is left to the imagination to allow for repeat viewings and academic papers for years to come.
Daniel Kaluuya (“Sicario”) stars as Chris Washington, a young black man who takes a trip with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams, HBO’s “Girls”) to meet her family for the first time. Upon arriving at the palatial estate, Chris’s enthusiastic reception from Rose’s parents (Catherine Keener, “Being John Malkovich”, and Bradley Whitford, “Cabin In The Woods”) is offset by the presence of groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson, “Pete’s Dragon”) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel, “The Purge: Election Year”), who are both black and suspiciously robotic.
In an about-face from what you see in movies like “The Conjuring” and “Don’t Breathe,” Peele takes influence from films like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Stepford Wives,” trading loud noises and gritty violence for “Twilight Zone”-level creepiness that lays the viewer into Chris’s heightened uneasiness as he encounters incident after incident of offensively PC treatment from Rose’s dad and friends of the family after undergoing a surreal round of hypnosis courtesy of her psychiatrist mom. What Peele does is allow the audience to empathize with the hero in a way we’re not usually allowed to when it comes to black men in horror movies, and to see them truly vulnerable and afraid.
That’s not to say everything about “Get Out” is dead serious. Given Peele’s background in comedy (he’s one half of the Comedy Central duo “Key & Peele”), it’s evident that he’s a student of the best offerings in horror movie history — ones that expertly weave in humor to alleviate tension and add to the enjoyment of the characters. Stand-up comedian LilRel Howery’s role as Chris’s friend Rod is the source of most of the film’s intentional laughs, but he’s also the thing that keeps us tethered to the real world, the kind of voice that might otherwise be yelled at the screen in another film. As Howery aids Chris in solving the mystery, he provides the kind of commentary that usually only happens in the minds of those watching the screen.
Historically, the best horror movies have come during periods of cultural shift and social unrest, and in many ways, “Get Out” is the type of film we’ve needed for the better part of the last decade. It’s clear that Peele is a fan who knows what the people who watch movies like this have seen before, but he’s also very conscious of what kind of fears need to be addressed and explored through art. If you just want a great time at the movies, “Get Out” delivers. But if you’re looking for the kind of truth that frightens and enlightens, this is a rare package that includes everything.