Jordan Peele is a name synonymous with American comedy, in his dual partnership with Keegan-Michael Key. So when you see his name attached to a wide release, you’d expect something similar in this regard.
Yet, with Get Out, Peele has taken quite the unconventional turn: he’s directed a darkly comic horror film about the ever intense relationship between the white and black communities.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. A first-time director, mostly known for comedy, has directed a film that embraces two of the most notoriously challenging genres, on the most controversial yet prominent topic at the moment. How could someone be this ballsy?
However, I’d like to stop any doubters right there. Because with Get Out, Jordan Peele has stormed into the spotlight, crafting something quite ingenious: an accessible, entertaining social commentary.
The set-up is quite simple: Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is heading off with his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her parents. But, there’s a catch, an elephant in the room that Chris points out: do they know he’s black? Rose shrugs this off. However, as he arrives, there are peculiar happenings and strange occurrences, and Chris begins to wonder whether there’s something a little sinister about this all-white family.
Firstly, with any film review, it’s important to avoid giving away any plot details: one of the best parts of the experience is the twists and turns that Peele takes you on. However, what I can tell you is that Peele has clearly researched and involved a huge back catalogue of classic horror movies during the film’s conception. Everything from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby to Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, and as he himself has stated, Bryan Forbes’ The Stepford Wives and Stanley Kramer’s Look Who’s Coming to Dinner. The film has numerous influences and it shows: it’s an intertextual goldmine.
Whilst this may be a negative for some films, Peele uses it to his advantage, by imbuing his own wit and commentary into proceedings. The screenplay, penned by Peele himself, is rich with references and double entendres, keeping you second guessing as to what the hell everyone is talking about. Some clever moments include one reminiscent of Kramer’s Look Who’s Coming to Dinner, where Rose and Chris are asked ‘so how long has this thing been going on for?’ by Rose’s father, Dean (Bradley Whitford). Another involves a plethora of characters at a dinner party, asking Rose questions about Chris’ ‘physical’ capabilities and acknowledging that ‘black’ is the fashion these days, striking one with the same alienating, unnerving feeling that one gets from watching Hardy’s The Wicker Man.
All of these moments create a palpable sense of discomfort and tension, an effect that is cleverly exploited throughout. However, this effect isn’t just played for horror: these moments invoke a comedic sense of what-the-hellness, as your eyebrow twitches and your stomach is in stitches at some of the more absurd moments. This is Peele’s stroke of genius. By combining elements of horror and comedy, by creating tense sequences that also make you laugh out loud at the utter silliness of the some of the questions asked, Peele is using his craft to reveal an aspects of racism that israrely touched upon: its ridiculousness. By showing how deeply unnerving, but hysterically unfathomable these racist ideologies are, Peele entertains the notion that we shouldn’t be scowling at any discriminatory remarks, but that we should be laughing at their sheer absurdity.
This is where the characters of Chris and his friend Rod, played by Caleb Landry Jones, come into play. Peele hasn’t crafted these characters with cliché tropes in mind. Instead, he has produced logical people, characters who use common sense to their advantage, who know when shady things are going down, often to hilarious effect. Rather than get sucked in by the niceties of the white community, Chris and Rod are identifiable with their own ethnicity. They know how the world works, how society views people of their colour, and they use this knowledge to their advantage. Peele has therefore inverted the horror stereotype of the illogical protagonist, but not in order to be innovative merely on a genre level: he wishes us to recognise the commentary being made through Chris and Rod, as people who are willing to take a poke at the white stereotype. One particular scene involves Rod trying to convince a police officer of the danger Chris is in, suggesting that he’s been caught in a scheme turning men of colour into sex slaves. The police laugh off this gesture: how the hell could it be true? Yet Peele plays on this, as Chris is near-enough suffering a similarly gratuitous fate.
However, despite Peele’s manipulation of spectator assumption and genre cliché, there is the occasional lapse into overfamiliar territory. A number of times, there comes a jump scare, yet one that isn’t naturally occurring, but instead one that comes about because of a music cue, a loud jolt in the soundtrack. This is a disorientating effect and for me has always taken me out of the narrative. While Peele does conduct a real shuffling of the stereotypes and formulas, these slips become more evident as a result and are far less effective in terms of creating scares, tension and atmosphere.
Nevertheless, despite this flaw, what I’m trying to get through to you is that Peele balances across a very difficult tightrope, with flair and confidence. Get Out is a film that has a serious message underlining its non-stop narrative momentum. Yet it delivers it through entertainment, appealing to the genres of horror and comedy, flexing between the two quite rapidly. This enables one to naturally engage with the message Peele is trying to promote, and as such, signals a strong and effective means of creating meaningful cinema to an audience that demands entertainment value rather than arthouse contemplation.
Ultimately, Peele has established himself as a filmmaker to look out for, crafting a film that wears its influences on its sleeve, adopting all the core horror tropes (some a little too much) with blackly comedic undertones, yet splicing relevant themes of racism into the horror/comedy DNA. It’s a film you need to see, not just because of what it says, but how it says it. This can be enjoyed on all levels and because of that, comes highly recommended.