One of the markers of a great horror film, and one of my favorite things that horror films can do, is their ability to take personal and intimate fears, whether macro or micro, and translate them into something physical that everyone watching can tap into. Take Rosemary’s Baby for example and how much anxiety and terror it mined from the human fears of being pregnant before anything supernatural got involved. Get Out, the directorial debut of elite comedian Jordan Peele, is a terrific debut that does a what a good horror film should do when tackling human fears – it mines so much dread and anxiety over the simple, real danger of being a black person in a white space – and that’s well before it goes in a bonkers direction that literalizes these anxieties. I had a similar feeling watching this that I had the first time I watched It Follows where I just kept going, “Shit, this is such a brilliant idea.” You’re just angry you never thought of something like this.
Get Out follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) who is taking a trip with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) in their upper-class society mansion in the woods. He discovers that something far more nefarious and racially horrific is going on there.
One of the key ingredients for a great horror performance is the ability to be in the moment, to make the fear and shock and realization authentic. That’s what Daniel Kaluuya does so well here. He’s been batting cleanup with quality supporting performances in solid films like Sicario and Welcome to the Punch, and he more than capably handles the lead here. He can communicate all the racing thoughts and paranoia that he’s experiencing so well, he’s with you every step of the way through the nutty turns this film takes. The film has an ace cast to round it all out, from disarmingly menacing Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, a slimy Caleb Landry Jones and a delightfully manipulative Allison Williams. Character actor MVP Stephen Root is always a treat, especially when he’s as sleazy as he is here. The great Lakeith Stanfield does terrific work as always in limited screen time. But it’s LilRel Howery who emerges with the MVP trophy here. He’s the lone source of comedy in this film, and just nails it each and every scene. You never feel like he or the film is trying too hard to be funny, he just makes it all so authentic. He’s an actor that just knows how to be funny no matter the situation. The film’s balanced mix of terror and comedy wouldn’t work without him.
There’s plenty to be written about the social/racial commentary this film delivers, and plenty to be written by somebody more skilled than me. One thing that struck me besides the obvious, exclamation point themes of the film, was how Peele makes some sobering statements about the reality of being black in America, and does so in the subtlest instances. When a young black man is walking down the street late at night, a car pulls up next to him but doesn’t do anything. Immediately the man knows something is wrong and knows that it’s because of race. When a cop car shows up at one point, Chris instinctively puts his hands up in defeat. This film is already terrifying on a very human level, which allows it to go off into some nutty places without losing you because all it’s done is amplify these fears to something literal and physical.
Peele flexes his auteur muscles quickly, beginning with a terrific one-take sequence (I’m the world’s biggest sucker for one-take sequences) that quickly establishes the key ingredients for Get Out. He immediately communicates how threatening it is to be a young black man walking around at night in a white suburb, his camera whirling around to create an effect of paranoia. Not every sequence is shot as well as that opening, but Peele keeps the tension rising adequately with close framing and quick editing. Of course, since it’s Peele, the film has a terrific sense of humor to go along with its solid scares and ingenious horror ideas. It can oscillate from being unsettling to being hilarious because of how unsettling it is. If we’re getting picky, they could have shaved off 10-15 minutes on the runtime with little effect on the overall product. But hey, those are negligible issues that don’t derail the process. It’s a terrific debut for Peele, and I hope we get to see him behind the camera more often because it’s clear from watching Get Out that he’s a serious directorial talent.