Get Out owes much to the small but precious film genre that dares to cultivate bizarre and hip satire.
Get Out directed by Jordan Peele. At the Somerville Theatre and AMC Assembly Row, Somerville, MA
By Paul Dervis
If you like your scary movies with heart-stopping, nightmare inducing, images, then Get Out is not for you. However, if the odder thrills of “things that go bump in the night” are to your taste, then this film will satisfy that appetite — and then some.
Jordan Peele, one half of the comedy team Key and Peele, draws on his distinctive mode of political irony in his directorial debut. From the very beginning, the narrative’s surface of conventional realism, down to the smallest details, seems to be slightly off. It’s as if the story is happening in the world we all live in … but it is all a bit out of focus. If you are a fan of the seventeen episodes of the TV series Key and Peele, this adroit use of surrealism will come as no surprise.
Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris Washington, a young up-and-coming African-American photographer who has recently begun dating Rose, a rich and privileged white girl. The relationship has progressed to the ‘meet the folks’ stage; Rose twists his arm to spend the weekend at her parents posh wooded retreat. Chris, who has his roots in the inner city, is leery about the prospects of the visit, but acquiesces. Let the (fun?), (social satire?), (odd happenstances?) begin.
The couple haven’t even arrived at the old homestead when the off-kilter events commence. They (apparently) hit a deer, though it occurs so quickly no one, not characters nor audience, actually see it happening. The corner of the car is damaged and laced with blood. Chris looks into the woods for the injured animal. A trouper stops by and demands Chris’s license, even though Rose was driving.
Welcome to white America. Though the cop’s prejudice is blatant. Peele’s real target is the more nuanced prejudice of the affluent, well-meaning white liberal. The questionable motives behind upper class good-intensions is lampooned time and time again in this clever little film.
Rose’s parents, a doctor and a shrink, are very left-wing. They are apologetic for having black servants (but they cared for their recently deceased mother and father, so how could they let the couple go?). They assure a suspicious Chris that these employees are like family. But the two don’t act like family — they act as if they are trapped in a perpetual bad dream.
It turns out that this weekend is going to be special. Countless upper crust types are coming in for a festive party and to meet the boyfriend of color. Even Rose’s ne’er-do-well brother makes the trip home.
Oh, yes. And Chris smokes. Homage to the bad habits of America’s underclass? And Missy Armitage, Rose’s mom (played with a quiet intensity by the incomparable Catherine Keener) specializes in curing this nasty habit through hypnosis. Her mesmerizing focal point — not a dangling watch but a tea spoon in a bone china cup — is a tantalizing choice.
Of course, the weekend turns into dada-esque disaster for young Chris. Events become weirder and weirder until the proceedings totally go off the rails. Yes, it is easy to see the twists and turns that are coming, they are still provocative, if only because they are liberally spiced with Peele’s sardonic political temperament. The final twenty minutes will satisfy those who crave blood and gore, yet Get Out never entirely forsakes its antic dedication to social issues. One is more likely to chuckle than scream from fear.
The acting here is disciplined rather than flashy. No one performance can be singled out as exceptional, but the cast members serve Peele’s macabre vision well.
Get Out is a little gem of a film. Though listed as a horror flick, it owes so much more to the small but precious film genre that dares to cultivate bizarre and hip satire. The movie reminded me of Tony Richardson’s wild 1965 tribute to the Evelyn Waugh novel The Loved One. That film sliced and diced the delusions of Hollywood and the funeral industry, but these two pieces — humorous studies in the intersection of sex, death, and deception — are clearly tapping into the same American nightmare.
Paul Dervis has been teaching drama in Canada at Algonquin College as well as the theatre conservatory Ottawa School of Speech & Drama for the past 15 years. Previously he ran theatre companies in Boston, New York, and Montreal. He has directed over 150 stage productions, receiving two dozen awards for his work. Paul has also directed six films, the most recent being 2011’s The Righteous Tithe