Get Out is a delightful experience, even though its aim is to creep the pants off you. It’s the kind of movie that’s slowly disappearing amidst the collective guck Hollywood seems so proud to churn out these days. It’s written and directed by Jordan Peele — half of the hit comedy duo, Key & Peele, of whom I know very little — and he displays such a natural understanding of the thriller/horror genre that for all the classics his film springs to mind, it remains unabashedly new. Just off the top of my head, I can list The Shining (1980), Scream (1996), Oldboy (2003), and perhaps most obviously, The Wicker Man (1973), as key inspirations. But seeing as how Get Out is very much also a comedy, its most direct ancestor would have to be Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2007). Peele sniffs and tastes all these great movies before selecting his ingredients carefully and concocting the most delicious brew in the recipe book. Hey, if you can’t be original, be as originally unoriginal as possible.
Let me set the stage for you, because that’s about all I can do without unveiling Get Out’s magic. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) have been dating for several months, and now it’s time for Chris to meet Rose’s supremely white family, a step he’s reluctant to take because Rose has never brought a black man home before, and, y’know, black lives matter. Rose assures him his dad would have voted for Obama a third time if he could have. That’s always comforting news. What’s not comforting is the stag they hit on their way up to the mansion, which is nestled in the kind of forest many teenage girls have tried escaping from axe-wielding killers into. Two bad omens in a row.
The meeting begins like a scene out of Meet the Parents (2000), until Rose’s mother — played superbly by Catherine Keener, channeling the best bits of Anjelica Huston and the most sinister witch imaginable — enters the picture. Immediately we know something’s wrong. And then, almost as if we wouldn’t notice, this progressive white family appears to have two black people in its employ, one a groundskeeper, the other a maid. Surely it’s a coincidence?
Get Out is great because it doesn’t believe in coincidence, just as Donald Trump doesn’t believe in peace. Its screenplay ensures that everything has its reason and its place; little throwaway lines spoken early on will have dire consequences later. A nod here, a glance there. An ill-placed shrug. Everything is positioned with purpose. The only thing free to manoeuvre is Chris, who wanders through Rose’s white world with eyes wide open and hairs standing on end.
Strange things begin to happen. The maid is friendly in a weird way, like she wants to stab you while telling you her childhood stories. The dad, Dean (Bradley Whitford), smiles too much. Rose’s brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), looks blazed out of his mind. An impromptu gathering of Dean’s friends is organised. They arrive in a convoy of black sedans, but they are all white. Catherine Keener continues to peer at us from behind walls with the kind of piercing eyes Sauron would envy. All this and I haven’t even gotten to the good bits yet. I am sorely tempted to detail Get Out’s entire plot here, because it is ingenious in the way it plays into our expectations. We deduce its sinister secrets well before Chris has a chance to, and yet the ride is thoroughly exciting. Like a kid trapped alone in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, we’re dying to find the exit but we’re too thrilled to leave.
Okay, I’ll stop here, before my rambling spoils it all. Rest assured, Get Out is one of the best thriller/horror/comedy films of its kind. It doesn’t belong to just one genre, nor does it deserve just one viewing. It doesn’t frighten like Scream frightens (there are few jump scares); it harnesses the power of suspense to gradually arouse our antennae until it explodes with its all-out finale. It’s also, rather splendidly, a think-piece, dealing with race-related issues in ways I’d have never thought to look for in a horror movie. It says a lot about humanity’s past that in this day and age, where white people vote for Obama and women vote for Trump, where peace is hard to come by, where we claim to be a species of advanced individuals, that the crap that happens in Get Out might actually be happening in a deep, dark forest somewhere, proving that humans don’t always learn from our mistakes.
Oh, and I will never look at a porcelain tea cup the same way again. Or a bingo card, for that matter. You’ll find out why.