IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 104 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
An African-American man is abducted whilst walking through a suburban neighbourhood late at night. Months later, photographer Chris Washington and his girlfriend Rose Armitage set off on a weekend trip to meet her parents, Dean and Missy, despite the fact that Rose hasn’t told her parents that Chris is black – something which worries Chris. Upon arriving at the Armitage home the day before the family’s annual get together, the family seems generally welcoming, but something strange is up with the house’s black servants Walter and Georgina, and when Chris is hypnotised by Missy, he wakes up no longer wanting to smoke….
Like most movie genres, the horror movie does have a tendency to become rather stale after a while and get stuck in laziness and repetition….until something like Get Out comes along to freshen things up. I don’t see quite so many horror films, at least new ones, as my fellow critics on Horror Cult Films Ross Hughes and David Smith, but Get Out is easily the best new horror I’ve seen this year and will be a hard film to beat. I think I speak for many horror fans when I say that few things are more exhilarating than finding yourself genuinely frightened by a new movie. It’s something that inevitably happens less and less as we all get older and feel increasingly that we’ve seen it all. While it does have a few superbly timed jump scares usually with the obligatory musical sting, and has a truly frightening passage around three quarters of the way through, what Get Out does so well is to get under the skin, to subtly unsettle. It’s also pretty funny, and we all know that horror and humour can be the most effective bedfellows even if films that get the balance exactly right like Bride Of Frankenstein and An American Werewolf In London aren’t that common. It was Alfred Hitchcock who, when informed by a concerned studio head that a preview audience had laughed during some bits of Strangers Of A Train, replied: “They’re laughing because they’re scared”. Get Out actually sometimes achieves what is the hardest thing of all – being at its most frightening when it’s at its funniest.
But Get Out also manages to be something else, and I’m not so much talking about it being a horror film with a non-white lead which is something that is still disgracefully rare. It’s also a complex commentary on race relations and racism, so complex in places that some viewers will probably interpret certain things differently to others, and while being fervently anti-racist has the courage to say some brave things, like the suggestion that folk who consider themselves to be totally against racism and want to solve this problem that blights mankind may still, even if inadvertently, do more harm than good. There’s a hell of a lot of think about in this movie, but if this makes the film sound rather heavy for those out for just a good time at the pictures, or sounds like it may put off those who are tiring a little of Hollywood’s current obssession with race, than rest assured it never overrides the entertainment factor, and there’s a refreshing lack of preachiness throughout, while many of the great horrors, especially from the 70’s, have a considerable amount of social commentary along with the guts and the gore anyway, so Get Out is just continuing a worthy tradition and upping the ante a little. It couldn’t be more timely, yet also manages the difficult task of feeling ‘of the now’ while at the same time clearly showing a love of and a respect for many of the films that have proceeded it.
Director Jordan Peele shows his newfound mastery of horror with his extremely sinister opening scene of a young black man trying to find an address in an upscale neighbourhood and being shadowed by a car blaring out Run Rabbit Run from a stereo before eventually being kidnapped and driven away. Now I’m going to admit here that I would have personally preferred it if this scene, while effective, wasn’t in the movie, because it would have made the shifts in tone later on in the film stronger, but it was no doubt felt necessary to include considering that this is a real slow builder for the next hour or so, and it doesn’t actively harm the picture. We now join our inter-racial couple four months [well five, as Rose reminds Chris] into their relationship and about to embark on the difficult thing of meeting the woman’s parents. Chris is concerned that Rose hasn’t informed them that he’s black, but Rose doesn’t seem to think that any problems may arise. On the way to their destination, they hit a deer and it’s nice to see the two of them reacting realistically to the event, appearing to be in shock for a few seconds. A cop comes along to investigate, and it’s interesting that Chris seems to accept his ever-so-slightly racist insistence that he see his ID card even though he wasn’t driving, but Rose takes offence to it. Eventually they arrive at Rose’s parents, and the camera pans out from their doorstep where the couple is being welcomed to reveal somebody watching from the right hand corner of the screen. Such a simple and well worn device but still effective and one that would more often done these days by a cut. Dean and Missy seem to be trying just slightly too hard to pander to Chris in scenes of such incisive observation, cleverness and uneasiness that I didn’t know entirely what to really feel – which I’m sure was the intention. Dean and Missy seem about as liberal as they come, but there’s still something ever-so-slightly off about their attitude to their daughter’s new boyfriend, and not just because he’s their daughter’s new boyfriend. And Rose’s brother Jeremy seems to border on taunting the poor guy.
For almost the first two thirds, Get Out is content to just slowly build its disquieting atmosphere, but it does it superbly. You’d honestly never guess that Peele had never made a horror film before. There’s a distinct John Carpenter feel, more than a whiff of at least one of the various versions of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, a snatch of The Stepford Wives, plus little bits and pieces inspired by other horrors while of course the whole thing can be seen as a twisted variation on Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?, but Peele refuses to turn his film into just a collection of tributes, single mindedly concentrating on getting the most effect from his set-ups as much as possible. The Armitage’s seem increasingly odd, but even stranger are their two black servants who seem to be blissfully happy yet somewhat distant at the same time. Walter creepily running past Chris a night is an unnerving moment – it’s amazing how much mileage Peele gets from simple ideas – but is also somehow funny in a bizarre way. Georgina is often shot in extreme close-up while the camera often seems to want to pan away from the other characters in the film. Just as unsettling is when Missy, who objects to Chris’s smoking habit far more than even I would do, hypnotises Chris and he seems to fall through what looks like outer space. It’s one of several simple, economical handlings of moments that far too many other films would overdo, piling on the fast cutting and the CGI. Chris sees another black man who for some reason goes crazy when he notices the flash of his camera and warns him to “Get out! Get the f*** out while you still can!”, while his buddy Rod begins to help him in his investigations into what the hell is going on – and that’s all I’m going to tell you of the plot because the revelations in the final third will work so much better if you don’t know what’s going to happen!
In truth, Get Out does slip a little towards the end. It gets pretty exciting and there are some nicely gruesome, if sometimes only partly shown, death scenes, but there are a few unbelievable and silly contrivances even if you accept the slight fantastical aspects elsewhere. Interestingly the ending as originally planned was different to what we have now and would have given the film a tougher slant, though it would also have made the social commentary more simplistic than it is in the rest of the film. Also less than great is some of the writing concerning Rod. Peele, who also wrote as well as directed, fails to make Rod as funny as he obviously wanted him to be and sometimes lazily falls back on just giving the character swearwords and ‘daring’ lines which jar with the more sophisticated commentary elsewhere, though the wry look at racial issues does dare to dip its toes just a little into murky issues like clichés of black sexuality – yet still somehow managing to do it with a wink and a smile without cheapening matters. A white screenwriter would have probably filled Get Out with heavy handed speechifying and totally demonised the villains. Peele is too clever to do things like that, and trusts that his audience will be clever enough to pick up on everything, even if at times only subconsciously. And he understands things like, for example, people who say things that are a little offensive may not be actually be bad people, the film daring to suggest, like that song from Avenue Q Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist, that racism could be ingrained in us.
Daniel Kaluuya gets you totally and utterly on the side of Chris immediately and Allison Williams shines in her part which is initially very simplistic but certainly doesn’t end up that way. Kudos also to the score by first time movie composer Michael Abels who employs all the tried and tested techniques very well but adds an African aspect, much like the whole film which is simply a cracking chiller but which also manages to work as a very dark comedy and be a highly intelligent look at racial matters and the black experience – and therefore becomes in its own way as important an anti-racist film as something like 12 Years A Slave….and no I’m not joking. I’ve always believed that horror, along with science fiction, is one of the best genres to deal with social and political issues anyway because of its very nature. Regular readers of HCF will probably have realised by now that my heart more often than not tends to reside more in the horror movies of the past than it does in the horror movies of the present, but I feel that Get Out is a film of considerable importance and – bar a few flaws which can probably be put down to Peele’s inexperience as a writer in this genre – an instant minor classic. And – let’s face it guys – is there anything scarier than meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time?