When it comes to the critical discourse that has surrounded Get Out since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the fervour has been unrelenting with the film drawing praise from numerous quarters, almost to the point of hysteria in some cases. So, when it comes to evaluating this first feature from director Jordan Peele, there is a sense of anticipation and expectation that makes it’s hard to approach the text with objectivity. Although billed as a horror film by some, Get Out is more a thriller with a smattering of comedic moments and a bit of bloodshed. It is also a film that is difficult to discuss without giving away key plot points that comprise some of the biggest surprises. However, anybody familiar with The Stepford Wives will no doubt identify some key similarities between the two films, which is why it is surprising to see Peele’s film being hailed for its originality. Having said that, completely original ideas in contemporary cinema are very rare indeed and Peele certainly isn’t the first filmmaker to draw inspiration from the films of previous eras.
The series of events take place over the course of a weekend as Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) accompanies his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her parents. In addition to all the usual stresses that go with such an occasion, Chris is particularly concerned about the fact that Allison has not told her parents that he is African-American. Upon arrival at the Armitage family estate, Chris is greeted warmly by Rose’s parents – surgeon Dean (Brad Whitford) and psychotherapist Missy (Catherine Keener) – but it isn’t long before he senses something is amiss, largely through the strange behaviour of the groundsman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel). A party the following day only serves to expose Chris to more odd characters, played by the likes of Stephen Root and Lakeith Stanfield but, as is the case so often in such stories, our protagonist doesn’t heed the warnings and soon finds himself in all sorts of bother when it turns out that – surprise, surprise – something sinister is afoot. Of course, the real action begins once Chris discovers what is really going on and plots his escape.
Peele disrupts the mounting tension at regular intervals to return to the city for a series of comedic interludes as Chris’ friend Rod (LilRel Howery) becomes increasingly concerned about his buddy’s welfare. Having advised Chris not to go in the first place – albeit because he believes all white people want black sex slaves as opposed to any tangible evidence he might have that suggests any threat – Rod becomes increasingly concerned when he can no longer make contact with Chris and his subsequent effort to get the police involved in rescuing his buddy is perhaps the funniest moment of all. Whilst Howery is a lot of fun in the bumbling sidekick role, less effective as Rose’s antagonistic older brother Jeremy is Caleb Landry Jones. Whilst the way Jeremy reacts to Chris might make sense once we learn more about what is going on, his aggressive demeanour during dinner only undermines the efforts of his parents to lull Chris into a false sense of security.
There is plenty to like here and there are some surprises as suspense turns to revelation even though, as we might expect, there is a considerable degree of implausibility. The ending is energetic and reasonably succinct, although there is a key element of the narrative the remains unresolved, which might bother some more so than others. A satire about covert liberal racism, Get Out rattles with provocations, exploring social class, the way black culture is exploited by white society and the kind of fears and suspicion that still permeate black-white relations. Yes, it is an impressive debut and box office figures suggest it has most certainly struck a chord with audiences, but I would suggest that perhaps some critics have been somewhat overly exuberant in their exaltations about the film and, whilst Get Out is entertaining, well made and sufficiently different from typical big screen fare to be worth your time and money, I am not convinced it is the masterpiece that some critics would like us to believe. Perhaps Chuck D and Public Enemy said it best with their 1988 decree that we “don’t believe the hype.”