The problem with tremendous hype around a movie is that, when you finally get to see for yourself what the fuss is all about, your expectations are inevitably sky-high. Having been subjected to rave reviews of the movie, ranging from ‘sleeper hit’ (is it me or is that term thrown around excessively lately?) to ‘best horror picture‘ of the year, I went in fully expecting to be terrified by Jordan Peele’s feature film directorial debut.
What I got, instead, was his particular take on racist America, interspersed with humor and a few instances of horror towards the end of the movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Get Out – just not for the reasons I felt I was supposed to. There was very little horror to contend with, and, in the end, its power was diminished by the message.
I won’t get into a tirade about the very real racial issues addressed in this film. For one thing, being a white girl from Greece, I am quite unqualified to discuss the hardships faced by African-Americans. ‘Black lives matter’ seems like it should go without saying, as far as I’m concerned; black exploitation (or exploitation of any form, really, not limited to race) should be unequivocally condemned. Ditto police brutality targeted towards African Americans. Given that I can only speak to these matters as an outside observer, any critique I could offer on Peele’s vision would come off as hypocritical or condescending.
I can only speak to the impact the movie had on me, not as a white suburban female, but as a person sitting down to watch a movie.
What’s interesting about the positive reception Get Out has enjoyed since its release is, first of all, its impeccable timing: in Trump administration America, with the Academy once again berated for the lack of African-American oscar nominees and winners, it was a joy to see genre clichés subverted and not have the black guy die within the first half of the film.
What’s also very intriguing is that Peele manages to take racial conversation and turn it on its head. Audiences have been conditioned to pick up on racial undertones in movies and discuss them ad nauseam with an air of superiority, trying way too hard to show everyone just how non racist they are, often ruining the enjoyment of movies that are only meant to be taken at face value and hide no deeper meaning. When a black person dies in a movie, to me it’s just a character getting written off. He or she could be black, white, asian or latino and it wouldn’t make much difference. The fact that more non-white people should be cast in lead roles is, to me, yet another argument stating the obvious, but it doesn’t take away from my movie experience nor is it the main issue I focus on in my review. Most of the time, casting decisions aren’t supposed to be social commentary, so, while I understand that voicing one’s dissent is important for the conversation and the first step towards achieving social change, I don’t feel that it ultimately has any relevance to the actual impact of a film.
Get Out, however, isn’t the kind of film that involuntarily hints at the underlying issues. It gathers up every single contemporary racial issue and throws it in our face: from Chris’s question in the beginning (Do Rose’s parents know he’s black?) to the cop requesting ID from the person not driving the vehicle; from the white privileged suburban couple whose black servants “are like family” to every white party guest going out of their way to be polite to Chris while simultaneously insulting him and displaying a great deal of envy for his superior black genes; and, of course, the overarching theme of exploitation to the extreme: the prologue’s body-snatching sets the tone for the entire film and its premise, which is none other than an extreme form of slavery, just like the hilarious Rod keeps insisting throughout the movie.
What I’m trying to say here is, if I’m going to have a social commentary about race shoved down my throat, I want it to be because the movie demands it, not because white guilt instructs me to. In that sense, Get Out fits the bill perfectly.
And then: if I’m going to enjoy a piece of film, I want it to be a good movie regardless of the ‘message‘; I am immersed in politics in my day-to-day and want my escapism politics-free. So I asked myself this: would I have enjoyed Get Out if the entire cast had been white, or black, Asian, Latino, whathaveyou? The answer is a resounding yes. Sure, the race factor adds a (crucial) deeper layer to the movie, but the premise and execution alone were a sound foundation to build on in the first place. Being removed from the very real racial issues handled by Peele, the movie would have worked just as well for me had the Armitages been, say, suffering from a congenital disease and looking for better, healthier bodies to inhabit.
I feel like I’m going around in circles here, so I’ll wrap this up by steering clear of the social issues raised by the movie:
The movie started out slow, but was saved by the excellent performances. The unsettling mood it set from the minute that poor deer hit Rose’s car (and the lack of empathy she shows, as opposed to Chris) kept gradually building but the actual horror was reserved for the last few minutes of the movie. That, plus the requisite comic relief offered by Rod, make it really hard for me to classify Get Out as a horror movie – and given that I was expecting one, it dulled my enthusiasm a little.
Still, it’s gripping, even devastating at times. The visual cues are cleverly placed throughout, Alison Williams’ depiction of Rose is excellent and Daniel Kaluuya is simply phenomenal as Chris, almost forcing the viewer to be on his side from the very beginning. And, hell, if Get Out sparks important conversation, all the more power to it – but that’s not my primary concern when watching a film.