Writer-director Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a potent and poignant allegory about modern race relations in suburban America. It is constructed on the skeleton of a slow-burn horror-thriller, with some awkward comedy thrown in for good measure. Satirical to its very core, Get Out ridicules the WASP-y “post-racism” of the middle-upper class, and suggests that despite protestations to the contrary, this racism is just as nefarious as blatant hatred. Through a deft use of genre tropes, Peele develops this allegory to its full potency, and the audience reaps the rewards. As the pieces fall into place, we are eating out of Peele’s hand at every turn and there is only one conclusion: Get Out is a masterpiece, harshly satiric and thoroughly creepy.
Get Out sports a simple plot. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) has been dating Rose (Allison Williams) for a few months, and the two are going to her parents’ house for the weekend. This will be the first time that Chris meets Rose’s parents, and he is concerned that they will not react well to their daughter dating a black man. While navigating the weekend, Rose and Chris confront awkward situations and start to realize that something really weird is going on in this community. Chris’s anxiety is heightened when all of the black people he meets in Rose’s community have a peculiar affect and behavior.
The specific reasons for these behavior patterns are revealed in a wonderful bit of slow-burn horror pacing, which Peele has mastered here. I will keep the actual plot reveals unspoiled, but bad things actually do happen, and all these lame white people are a serious threat to Chris. It isn’t just some paranoia on his part – if anything, he isn’t paranoid enough. This pacing, combined with the tongue-in-cheek and awkward tone lends the film its sense of humor, and most of the scares come from relieving the tension that builds up throughout the film.
The allegorical treatment of this subject matter is the true strength of Get Out. For a clever filmmaker like Peele, the horror genre is ideal for sneaking high-concept issues into a B-level kind of movie. Of course, horror films can be made and enjoyed at face value, but they offer a unique way to package ideas by clothing them in rhetorical choices. One common example of this phenomenon would be George Romero’s Living Dead zombie films, which are often interpreted as a critique of mindless consumerism. Get Out is the latest example of this technique, as Jordan Peele takes what could be a general thriller and injects themes of hidden racism, slavery, cultural appropriation, and many other issues involving race relations between black people and white people.
The allegory and satire are apparent from the onset of the film. One of the first things Rose says to soothe Chris early on is to say that her dad, “Would have voted for Obama a third time if he could”. It’s pretty awkward, got a number of groans from my audience, and is made more awkward when her father repeats it later. From Chris’s perspective, Rose’s community is full of try-hard, color-blind liberal WASPs intent on proving that they aren’t racists. Their attempts to make Chris comfortable paradoxically put him more on edge, and this tension accumulates. There are zero characters in the film that shout epithets at Chris, treat him like a sub-human, or are overtly racist in any way. Peele isn’t interested in attacking the boring kind of racism; his sights are set on a more subtle quarry.
The kind of racism that Chris finds is all evolutionary psychology bullshit. Rose’s brother, for instance, makes dinner awkward by insisting that if Chris trained, his “frame” is perfect for mixed martial arts. Other members of the community make similar borderline-but-not-really racist comments. One old man insists that Tiger Woods is his favorite golfer with a particular lack of grace. Another claims that “black is back in fashion”, ostensibly referring to his clothing. These kinds of interactions permeate the film, each one making Chris feel more and more of an outsider. Despite the effort that these white people go to, they nevertheless indicate to Chris that he is an “other”, an outsider, and unwelcome. It’s largely subtext, until the third act when it most certainly isn’t.
When the specifics of the community are finally revealed, the upper-class denizens of the suburbs transform from the well-meaning liberals that they appear to be into the racist monsters that they actually are. This hidden insidiousness is the real target of Peele’s satirical barbs. Just as The Stepford Wives burlesqued the idyllic ‘50s-era conformity by making women into literal robots, Get Out attacks those who are quick to proclaim their racial acceptance of black people. He seems more concerned with these virtue-signaling SJW who “would vote Obama again” than the Confederate Flag-waving Redneck. And the reason is clear: you know to stay away from the Redneck!
Get Out should be heralded a satire masterpiece. The film leans on jump scares a little too often to be considered a fantastic horror film qua horror film, but its awkward mood makes it one of the best tone-forward horror films in recent memory, and the satire launches it to a new strata. But the film is far from all high-concept allegory. After all the Bond-villain exposition in handled, the third act is a raucous revenge trip that manages to slip in some dreadful surprises. The allegory is air-tight and fascinating, but the surface-level narrative is satisfying as well.
With Get Out, Jordan Peele has demonstrated that his keen sense of cultural criticism is not limited to sketch comedy. With a deft use of satire and an intimate understanding of the allegorical strengths of the horror genre, the first-time director has a crystalline vision for his film. Get Out is a rousing and important piece of genre film, simultaneously revealing racial tensions and lampooning those who insist that they are above them.