Jordan Peele has made his directorial debut in the low-budget thriller Get Out. Peele has been playing with the idea of race since writing and starring in sketches with the other half of his comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key on their Comedy Central show “Key and Peele”. Much of Peele’s work on the show dealt with themes of race seasoned and punctuated with humor. Many of the sketches themselves were often parodies of other genres of movies and television, and some of the more successful sketches included commentary on race set against a horror backdrop. It would make sense that Peele’s first foray into filmmaking would be an allegorical tale of a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time.
A few words about “Get Out”;
- Excellent writing – From beginning to end this movie has a solid and straightforward plot that is executed well using the dialogue. In the first act of the film it could be easy to dismiss some of the dialogue as hokey or stilted, however, as the film continues it becomes clear that these are all connected to the ultimate ideas presented in the film. Thinking through much of the dialogue after the film ends is much like looking at pieces to a puzzle and enjoying them far more as part of a whole than as individual pieces. Also, the building of tension through dialogue is well executed, as the film continues the general sense of unease from meeting a family paired with that family being of another race is multiplied by the idea that there is “something else” going on the entire time.
- Excellent acting – The veteran actors in this film do a wonderful job of helping to build the tension either through solid execution of dialogue or by lending their ‘acting gravitas’. Having some steady hands do some of the acting seemed to add to the legitimacy of the film, however, this does not account for the excellent jobs done in drama and comedy by Daniel Kaluuya and Lil Rel Howery. Kaluuya is believable in his role of the “black everyman”. As a black guy watching the film, I felt like much of his responses to what was happening around him were natural and even in some cases were exactly my responses in the same situations. Kaluuya was able to seamlessly transition from “guy in a regular situation” to “guy reacting to an extraordinary situation” relatively quickly. He is easy to watch and his seriousness plays well against the comedic relief of Lil Rel Howery. The interesting part of watching Howery’s performance is that it does not fade as the film continues as these roles in horror/thriller films often do. Conversely, there is also a tendency for this type of role to be overdone to the point that it overshadows the original point and tone of the film. Peele is able to direct Howery’s performance in such a way that it is enjoyable and cuts the tension in the film, while also serving as an audience foil and realistic commentary on what is happening on screen. There are also some solid performances from Alison Williams who does an excellent job of being the “clueless girlfriend” and Lakeith Stanfield whose part is also a welcome addition to the film. All the performances in the film are solid in their own regard but weaving them all together is done with great care by Peele.
- Compelling subject matter – As a black man who loves film, this film may have been tailor made for my demographic. That being said much of the subject matter immediately hit home for me. Early in the film Kaluuya’s character asks Williams’ character “Did you tell them that I’m black?” This question captures exactly the point of this film. There is nuance here with every interaction between Kaluuya and this new environment he is introduced to. For much of the first act of the film, I found myself in awe of how well the dynamic between the main characters is portrayed as well as the smaller interactions between Kaluuya’s character and the parents, Kaluuya’s character and the house servants, and Kaluuya’s character and the townspeople. I found myself saying “that exact scenario has happened to me”. This demonstrated a clear grasp of the subject matter by Peele, as well as an excellent sense of the space he was working in. He successfully made a film in white space that fully maintains a solid idea of blackness interacting with whiteness in white space.
This film has few flaws. None really worthy of mentioning. That being said it is not necessarily a film for everyone. Some jump scares early in the film, but nothing that would be considered real terror. (unless you consider the existential terror of trying to exist in white space terrifying, as some do) Leave the kids at home. 4.75 of 5 stars.