Get Out is so dark and twisted that it feels like more than a movie; it may be a singular of cultural event, one we can look back on in forty years and say, "oh, that's when race relations really started to go back down the drain." Nervy and tough, Jordan Peele's solo writing and directing debut isn't content to nibble on the edges or stand on the sidelines of a nation's darkest fears and unspoken truths. Wade in the water, baby. And let the current wash you away.
Along with Keegan Key, Peele has enjoyed a meteoric rise as creative forces to be reckoned with in Hollywood. I wasn't a huge fan of Key & Peele, their ambitious comedy show (then, too, I'm one of those never fully onboard for Dave Chapelle), but I respect the sheer scope of their talents and their nervy approach to humor in the "post racial" age. We're all so much ... better. Except when we're not.
On film, separately and together, it's getting clearer what both men brought to their pairing - Key seems more relaxed in his politics, the lighter hand, with the real sass in his humor. Peele, I suspect, takes the less sanguine view - don't give anyone too much credit, never forget how we got here, and humor with more bite on a larger scale. Get Out may try to use humor as a release (or better, as a nervous, embarrassing notion of the awkward ways we relate across race and class), but none of the funny sticks. The joke, really, is on anyone too naive to see danger lurking any and everywhere.
The film plays on a conventional, postmodern, upper middle class moment - a young couple, black man and white woman, on the way to her parents for his first "meet the family" weekend. Her dad's a neurosurgeon; her mom's a psychiatrist. Their lovely home is "upstate, by the lake" on a secluded lot. There's even a lovely pair of hired help - a black handyman, and a black housekeeper/cook. Watch dad laughingly apologize for such cliches as he admits a fondness for President Obama! So familiar! So awkward.
Things start to go awry with the arrival of brother Jeremy, a snarling bucket of rage and resentment barely contained by sly banter. It's the family dinner where everything starts to feel especially off, and from there, things rapidly go downhill: a gathering of the parents' friends takes on baroque weirdness, the black people around seem oddly composed, and a host of off putting conversations leave an uncomfortable aftertaste.
Oh, by the way, mom does hypnosis. Watch the clinking teacup!
Once the pieces fall into place, Get Out finally lifts the veil on all the suburban niceties and gets down to the hard violent business its maker - and its audience - probably came for. Though Peele definitely has a feel for the tension and shocks of horror as a genre, he hasn't quite come up with an especially fresh plot - virtually every surprise is unsurprising and broadly telegraphed (and, as you pick over it afterwards, probably as full of plot holes as I found). Acting isn't especially subtle or nuanced (or for that matter, memorable). Though handsomely shot and stylishly composed, the film feels, mostly, pedestrian - and thoroughly middle class.
None of that is necessarily bad - Get Out works, really, because of it's banality, because once things become clear, it's mostly just what you thought all along. And by "you thought all along" I mean the conventions of stereotypes and prejudices many of us bring to the racial divide - distrust of others, suspicion of motives, fears about what it means to "cross to the other side." This is an angry film, with few nice things to say about anyone or any group. They really are out to get you. No one is on your side. Only trust those closest to you.
Beneath it's glossy, indie but on a nice budget feel, Get Out has a dark, little, grim spirited heart, with nothing nice to say about interracial relations, bridging our divides, or trying to understand one another. I'm not surprised, as a result, that the film does feel especially in tune with the times. When a president flirts with white supremacy, is a horror film with a worldview straight out of blaxploitation that much of a stretch? Not really. Give Peele points for nerve. But don't expect me to say I feel good about it.