So how do you want to do this? Straight, like all of the white reviews on Rotten Tomatoes? Funny, to keep from crying? Tell you what: I’ll meet you, whoever you are, halfway: I’ll do four reviews for the four most likely affected parties in proximity to Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, which you should stop reading reviews about and just go see, now, immediately, posthaste.
Cinephiles, Critics & Movie Heads
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets Psycho is an appropriate way to describe the poignant and provocative mash-up of politics and terror that Get Out provides. The film is a horror film for people who don’t like horror: it isn’t gross (until the end), and it’s a well-done film that knows not only the story it wants to tell, but has the confidence to tell it well. It isn’t yet another installment of handheld “camerawork” designed to shave the budget and make audiences queasy, and its characters feel real and earnest to us. And for you West Wing fans out there, Daniel Kaluuya’s resemblance to Dulé Hill isn’t just a coincidence: it turns out Chris is the new Charlie Young in a white house that’s even more insidiously terrifying than the one we just put a new president in.
You all know the film quality of our beloved genre averages out to “poor”. Most horror films are bad, or good ideas done wrong, or should never have been made in the first place. Most of them are sexist as a rule, and the rest are racist even when they try not to be. We all know this. No secrets here. But Get Out is not any of those films. This is a well written, perfectly cast, finely paced, strongly executed film that does a hundred things right with almost no gore, little violence, and no monster. Get Out is all muscle, a well-oiled machine of story and reality winks. It heaves with tension, and parts of it are painful to watch, not for their horror, but for the banality of their casual racism. And when the twists come in the last act and the scares start piling up, you’ll have no problem putting this one on your shelf alongside It Follows, The Babadook, and other similarly well-crafted horror films that make all the gold panning worthwhile. Remember how you felt walking out of The Cabin in the Woods, how surprised you were at how good it was? Same.
Get Out is perhaps the blackest horror film ever made, and I’ve seen them all. Not just every black horror film….EVERY HORROR FILM. The running joke in horror films used to be that black characters were killed first or right away. Somewhere along the line the industry got hip and, in an attempt to keep people spending money on what is still a field buried in shlock, they started letting the black person live. Get Out is aware of not only the original cliché, but the cliché that was nurtured after the original observation. Without revealing anything, it opts to twist both clichés. Every time a black person in the film encounters horror, they act the way black people in theaters have been yelling at the screen for characters to respond to horror for decades. It’s as if the people making the film have, you know, been in a black theater before. If you want to watch a bunch of white folks who don’t see movies by black people until NPR tells them it’s safe squirm in their seats for an hour and a half, go see this in a white theater. I promise: it will be so quiet in there you’ll be able to pick out the real allies in the dark.
Social Justice Warriors, White Allies, Hoteps, and other more or less Woke Folks
Get Out operates on a handful of levels and works admirably on each. As a horror film, it scares. As a satire, it bites. As a commentary on race relations, it instructs on all sides. But the real heft of the film is in how deftly it strings together a dizzying array of issues, debates, definitions, camps, and iconographies without tipping the boat into ham-fisted and bloated water. How many items are on that list? Here are nineteen of them off the top of my head. See if you can find them all:
House slaves/field slaves.
Giving awkward dap.
What your mama told you about dating them white girls.
There are a few more but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Suffice it to say, Get Out is probably the thickest syllabus on modern race relations you’re likely to get outside of a Black Studies post-graduate course at a historically black college, or crashing a New Black Panthers meeting. Get Out is unapologetically black, and yet knows how to talk to white folks to get the job without being inauthentic in any way. Much like its lead character, the film chooses how and when it enters, and while it just wants to the chance to be treated on its merits and not its swag, it’s very confident in its swag.
Regardless of who you are, don’t wait to see this film. It’s not just a horror film. It’s a challenge. And I don’t think everyone who looks away will be doing so because they’re worried about being scared by what’s on the screen, so much as how they discover they’re responding to the film’s challenge.