Movie Review: Get Out

I cannot overstate how frustrating it is to be a movie critic at the beginning of the year. The earliest few weeks of the year are a wasteland of mediocrity and garbage, stuff that couldn’t compete at any other time of the year, occasionally brightened by the occasional Oscar bait finally getting wide release.

At least that’s the conventional wisdom, and while that has remained mostly true, it’s not entirely true anymore. The first few months of the year have begun to have more and more movies worth watching. Wes Anderson’s last two releases hit theaters in March, Deadpool (one of my top 10 movies of last year) hit in February and, perhaps most relevant to this review, Cabin in the Woods hits theaters in March. So there’s no reason to dismiss a film, especially a horror film, out of hand due to its release date.

Directed by Jordan Peele of Key and Peele fame, Get Out is devoted to Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young African American photographer living in New York City, who is currently dating Rose (Allison William) a white girl from...I don’t know if they specify, but I think it’s supposed to be Connecticut, or maybe upstate New York? Somewhere near there. Anyway, they’re on their way to visit her parents Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener).
Dude, don't worry, it turns out Moonlight actually won.
But all is not well in upstate New York. Rose’s mom is a therapist who almost immediately hypnotizes Chris against his will, the family’s black servants (Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson) are acting extremely strange, and Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones) is exceptionally aggressive towards Chris for no good reason. And then there’s talk of a party the next day...

The premise of Get Out, as you might guess from that description, is pretty straightforward. Basically take the style of slow creeping horror you might find in other “fish out of water” horror flicks like Deliverance, set it amongst an affluent Connecticut or upstate New York suburb, and you’re most of the way there. And speaking as a resident of Connecticut, this movie is right on the money with most of its references.

Now that alone is a good concept, trading in banjos for ukuleles and menacingly brandished shotguns for lacrosse sticks, but Get Out has a handful more tricks up its sleeve. For starters, during the slow build, our primary source of weirdness and unnerving horror is found in the awkward, fumbling attempts to acknowledge Chris’ race without being insensitive. That might not necessarily sound like a winner (indeed, upon writing it out, it sounds like a...well a Key and Peele sketch) but there’s a lot of mileage there, especially given how well Kaluuya sells his discomfort as it slowly builds into disturbance and finally horror.

Of course, you can’t build an entire horror flick around a guy getting more and more uncomfortable with the casual, accidental racism of the people surrounding him, and to the film’s credit, it does manage to escalate things nicely. The slowly building mystery of what is going on underneath the surface of this supposedly nice suburb is a good one, peppered with just enough unnerving elements to keep the audience guessing. The reveal is satisfying and makes sense of all the stuff the movie has exposed us to so far, even if it does over-explain its reveal just a tiny bit.

"So then Obama's Anger Translator says-"
The script (which is good, but not exceptionally so) is resting a lot of its weight on the actors, which works out because they all show up. Kaluuya is pretty great, selling his growing unease and eventual fear and rage at the proceedings, often silently or with body language. Marcus Henderson, LaKeith Stanfield and especially Betty Gabriel all do great (and subtly unique) “screaming behind their eyes” performances. And without wishing to spoil, all of the villain actors also show up pretty hard.

But a script and actors aren’t usually enough to carry a horror film; you need good direction, and most of all you need it to be scary. Get Out opts for more of a creeping dread kind of fear, like The Witch did last year, and it does it well. Peele is a good director, and while he occasionally dips into his sketch comedy roots (more on that in a second), he clearly has an excellent understanding of how to handle horror direction, using light and shadow, and menacing framing to great effect.

One of my only issues with this movie is with Chris’ friend Rod, played by Lil Rey Howery who is perhaps a tiny bit too funny for the film’s own good. Oh he’s a fun screen presence, but while the entire movie is funny, he is a different sort of funny, much broader and prone to shouting, while the rest of the film is more deploying more uncomfortable and subtle humor. His scenes also don’t intersect with the plot much until the end, and he ends up feeling superfluous, a leftover from when this movie was a sketch concept.

Seriously, just keep watching, Moonlight won!
Still, that and a handful of extremely minor complaints (they over-explain the mechanics while under-explaining the villains’ motivation) aren’t enough to sully this movie in my eyes. Get Out is an intensely engaging horror flick, a sharp social commentary and a great time at the movies. You definitely want to get out and see it ASAP, especially given how much a responsive audience adds to the experience.

Elessar is a 27 year old Alaskan-born, Connecticut-based, cinephile with an obsession with The Room and a god complex.