Jordan Peele has said Get Out is a reimagining of Stanley Kramer’s Oscar-winning Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? Kramer’s movie is the prototype of a well-meaning white liberal artist making a case against racism that goes horribly awry without any apparent self-realization at how racist it’s actually being. You need not have seen Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? to appreciate the sublime joy of Get Out.
Peele’s directorial debut is the best thriller since Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. As the end credits rolled, I found myself breathless, jazzed, and utterly delirious with glee. My body was sore from the tension and contortions I had put myself in.
The movie was so good and so effective not even the theater employees coming in and out of the projection booth could sully the film’s spell. The drunk white lady next to me, who magically transformed into the audience’s internal monologue as she babbled endless questions audibly at the screen during the movie’s climactic ending, couldn’t deter my enjoyment of the film.
Throughout Get Out Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) confronts what could be called ‘benign racism’ from his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) white friends and family in their posh suburban community. Nothing mean-spirited, it’s all well meaning. They’re the type who boast about how post-racial they are but suspiciously don’t know anybody who isn’t white. Nor can they go three seconds without mentioning that Chris is black.
Race is the center of the film from the very start. Peele manages to build subliminal tension at times just by mentioning Chris’s race. Peele manages to get so much mileage from how terrified Whites are talking about race while allowing a sinister undercurrent of paranoia and age old bigotry to develop. It bubbles underneath the surface threatening to erupt.
Guests and family members confide in Chris about how they’ve met Tiger Woods or how they would have happily voted for President Obama a third time. There’s even a moment where an elderly couple in talking about golf, even after Chris says he doesn’t play, ask him to show them his golf swing.
Get Out works on so many levels it’s difficult to parse out what works and why on just one viewing. Peele has utilized his time on the Key and Peele Show to astounding effect. The movie is lean with not a wasted moment or unnecessary line of dialogue. At just over ninety minutes the movie leaves you as breathless and anxious as if the movie was some two-hour action-packed epic.
Kaluuya gives a star making performance as the down to Earth, wryly observant Daniel. He knows more than Rose; it will matter to her family that he’s not white. It’s not lost on him that upon arriving at her parents’ house, the only other black people he sees are the help. From almost the first scene he gets us on his side.
Kaluuya does a masterful job of playing an everyman that we can both relate and root for. He anchors the movie and grounds it in something close to a paranoid reality. Kaluuya’s performance is all the more astounding when pitted against Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as Rose’s parents Missy and Dean. A lesser actor would be drummed off the screen, but Kaluuya holds his own.
Keener and Whitford have a wonderful way masquerading their deeply sinister beliefs as down home upper-class politeness. Keener smiles in a way that leaves you wondering if she may instead be snarling. Whitford uses his charm as a way to distract you from his unnerving gentle chuckle and sly yet truly resentful wit.
The standout, besides Kaluuya, has to be, Allison Williams as Rose. Her performance is a tightrope of an act. Peele uses her as the main thriving mechanism of his story. One of the ways he plays with us is by having us try and guess how much or how little Allison knows. Williams is superb as she seems to always tip-toe near giving us a hint as to which side she’s on. Her performance makes the anxiety real and palpable.
As the movie races along its logic begins to morph into the stuff of nightmares. With each reveal, Peele adds more and more layers of tension and anxiety. Yet Peele never loses sight of how easily a misstep could derail the whole thing. He wisely keeps the movie’s events over just a couple of days. If it went on any longer, we would begin to doubt Daniel’s intelligence and our empathy for him might wane.
The movie pays homage to countless psychological thrillers, horror movies, gothic and otherwise while never losing its thread of thought. Peele knows the value of humor as stress relief and employs it masterfully. He makes us laugh just enough, so we don’t stroke out but never enough so we’re entirely comfortable.
Get Out is everything you’ve heard and more. I loved every second of this movie. It has stayed with me, like a nightmare. Just talking about it dredges up the anxiety I felt watching a movie. It achieves a sort of lasting emotional resonance.
If it feels like I’m overselling it, I’m not. It really is that damn perfect.