Out of all the smart decisions that Jordan Peele made in the production of Get Out, working with Blumhouse Studios was perhaps the smartest. The studio, known for small productions and large advertising budgets, likely afforded Peele (who wrote and directed the film) the opportunity to take some creative risks while all but guaranteeing a strong return on investment. Even though Keanu’s box office return was mediocre, a #1 spot at the box office for Get Out solidifies Jordan Peele as a formidable presence in Hollywood.
While the small budget is apparent when watching the film, it is not a marker of poor quality. Peele’s horror-comedy is conservative in nature, taking a simple concept and crafting social commentary around it. (As a white person, my experience watching Get Out is obviously very different than a person of color, so take this review with a grain of salt.)
The story follows Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a young African-American photographer who is visiting his girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) childhood home for the first time. Chris is concerned that Rose, his girlfriend, hasn’t told her parents that he’s black, but she doesn’t see what the big deal is. Upon arrival, Rose’s parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) are excited to meet Chris. They are liberal and well meaning, but their rhetoric is laden with microaggressions.
Up to this point, it seems like a pretty standard update of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The major difference is that instead of discussing interracial relationships, Get Out is dismantling the myth of a post-racial society. However, Get Out utilizes genre to take this a step further. Framing the story as a horror film, Peele spotlights the liberal racism and subsequent gaslighting that African-Americans experience.
Part of what makes this such a successful concept is that it seems like it should have been done before, but hasn’t. People of Color are often ignored or quickly brutalized by the horror industry, and narratives frequently privilege characters with… privilege. But by capitalizing on real-life horrors, Get Out creates a fantastic sense of paranoia that is only exacerbated as the camera confirms the protagonist’s suspicions.
Mixing genre and social commentary was part of what made Key & Peele so successful, and Jordan Peele transitions this technique from short form to feature length with great success. While some of the plot points arrive with too much ease and certain B-characters are overly distracting, the movie has a clear, consistent structure with lots of clever lines and sequences.
The film depends on Daniel Kaluuya in the lead role, and he steps up to the plate. Much of his screen time is accompanied with silence, but his gaze has so much depth to it. His subdued performance works in tandem with the two-faced theatrics of Rose’s family. While Catherine Keener is the clear standout of the suspicious activity (perhaps because of her recent absence from the screen), all the performances are strong and engaging, with a few small exceptions: Rose’s brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) and Jim Judson (Stephen Root). Jones’s eccentricities are reminiscent of the original antagonist in The Purge as he tries just a little too hard to be creepy. And though Root does an oddly charismatic job, it still felt wrong that a blind character was being played by an able-bodied actor.
Get Out would probably identify more strongly as a thriller than as a horror film, but it’s intense all the same. Jordan Peele has clear control behind the camera, and all the parts seem to fall into place. You can believe the hype. Get Out is a very solid film and a clear indicator that Jordan Peele is here to stay.