Get Out (2017)

Directed by Jordan Peele


Get Out is certainly exciting.  It’s not quite a horror movie, but it is.  It’s more of a thriller and a combination of movies like Guess Who’s Coming to DinnerThe Stepford Wives and even a little body horror out of something like Tusk or maybe a movie a little more serious than Tusk (it’s just the first one that popped into my mind).  Hell there’s even a little of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin in the sequences in which, under hypnosis, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) descends into “the sunken place.”

There’s a lot going on, but like most horror films, this feels incredibly small, in a good way, maybe intimate is a better word.  The whole thing, for the most part, takes place at the big, Southern home of the Armitage family, whose daughter, Rose (Allison Williams) brings Chris home to meet the family for the first time.  The Armitage family is very white, and Chris expresses concern that they don’t know that he’s black.  Rose insists that they’re very progressive, but when they arrive at the home, the family’s behavior borders on creepy and settles well past inappropriate.  Most of this, however, Chris shakes off as the typical behavior of people who rarely come across a person of color.

There are a few themes at play that have been well-covered already, so I might not focus on them here.  Instead I’m curious about Get Out as it relates to the horror genre.  As a horror movie, there is already a huge suspension of belief.  When we find out that the Armitage family has been luring black people to their home to be effectively lobotomized (but not quite), it’s not at all surprising because we know some real shit is going to go down.  The movie opens with a man (Lakeith Stanfield) getting abducted, and a little before the midpoint of the movie we see him again as a silent, polite shell of himself.  He is nothing more than a slave.

So basically we know where the movie is going to at some point.  It’s clear that this family isn’t who they pretend to be on the surface, not because of their odd behavior but because of the genre of the movie.  The movie’s genre affects how we look at this family’s behavior which, while certainly creepy and unsettling, isn’t all that abnormal.  The effect of this is that we have to reevaluate certain behavior in real life which has until now gone relatively uncommented on.

What we figure out pretty early on (if we didn’t already know), is that the Armitages and their very white friends have been abducting young black men and women and hypnotizing them into becoming their servants.  What we later learn, in the second half of the story, is that when hypnotized, a person descends into “the sunken place” where they are cognizant of everything happening but completely paralyzed, unable to move or to speak.  The Armitages and their friends, apparently, have been using black men and women as vessels into which they put the minds of the people they want to save.  In other words, Rose’s grandparents, who would have normally passed on by now, have been kept alive by having their brains put inside the mind of two other people of color who work in and around the Armitage house as servants.  But in certain moments, those two people can become aware (brought on by a camera flash), because the real person is still in there somewhere, they just have to watch helplessly as their body is manipulated by someone else.

It’s truly horrifying, as it should be, not in a jump-scare way, but in a very unsettling, ‘what does this say about our society and have I been part of the problem’ kind of way.  I loved this movie, beyond the fact that it has a message and is genuinely gripping, entertaining and mysterious.  But I really was unsettled.  Oftentimes in horror movies you side with the person who is oppressed, not just because you want them to survive but because that’s who you identify with.  You understand the feelings and motivations of the person in over their head with some grotesque, horrifying, villainous power.  But in Get Out the villains are white people, and sure it’s unlikely that every white family is like the Armitage family, but the point is clearly that the Armitage family stands in for white people as a whole.  Every white character in this movie is evil or just casually racist (like the cop in act 1).  The only good people are men and women of color, all of whom, except for Chris’ friend Rod (LilRel Howery), are powerless.

The Armitages live in the south in a large manor-esque home that feels deeply-rotted in southern family wealth which it’s not hard to imagine goes back years, decades and centuries into the slave owning days.  So maybe you want to ascribe the villainy to southern whites, like you might ascribe the villainy in Deliverance to hick people in small towns.  But Rose’s parents claim to be liberal.  As Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford) says, “I would have voted for Obama for a third term.”

The Armitages are taken to another level in their evil, but they start as people you and I know and probably are ourselves.  This really gets under your skin and forces you to reevaluate race relations and your own role and perspective on all of this.  Jordan Peele wrote this movie during Obama’s first term in office when many people liked to claim that racial tensions had been mollified.  That’s obviously too simplistic of a view of the modern world, and there have been so many incidents since which point holes in that logic.  So this is a movie that makes it clear that there is still work to be done.  We might pretend everything is okay because, hey at least we’re past slavery, but the real bigotry shows itself in smaller moments, such as meeting a person of color and talking instantly about Barack Obama and Tiger Woods simply because they’re black as well.

Comedian Rory Scovel has a good joke in his first standup album in which we addresses the perception of people in the south as being very racist.  Scovel, from South Carolina, says that everyone is racist, it’s just that the south can’t shut the hell up about it.  Okay, now writing about a joke is never as funny as actually hearing it, but it’s something that this movie reminded me of.

Oh and Rod, Chris’ friend the TSA agent, is extremely funny.  He feels like a character straight out of a Key & Peele sketch.  He’s the audience’s surrogate, the character who tells Chris what is obvious to us but not obvious to the character.  Again, since this is a horror movie, we know that Chris should get the hell out of there, but Chris is a character in a movie, not a character aware that he’s in a movie.  So of course he would ignore the signs which are to us obvious but to him only a little unsettling.  Rod, on the other hand, tells him immediately to get out.  At the end of the movie, when he discovers Chris following his fight out of the house, Rod tells Chris “I told you not to go in there.”

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