Sunday, February 26, 2017
Get Out is a movie built from other parts of movies, a pastiche/celebration of horror and other genre tropes. Yet it doesn't feel at all derivative or superficial. The writer-director Jordon Peele (of Key and Peele fame) has the goods. He's a stylist with something very important to say, and that blending of subject matter with technical prowess is exhilarating to witness; in fact it's the overarching reason why movies themselves are so important, so influential. Peele cannibalizes Rosemary's Baby, Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Silence of the Lambs (just to name a few) with abandon and glee, skillfully slicing and dicing moments and dialog into a meta meditation on horror movies and race and otherness and whiteness and privilege, until by the end of Get Out you are hooked and sunk into a world totally manifested by Peele's intelligence, wit, and anger.
But he doesn't just riff on horror movies. That would be too easy. Interspersed within the glittery, gory, Grand-Guignol fetishes are bits and pieces of Woody Allen movies and even a sort of Merchant-Ivory attachment to comedies of manner. He's out to skewer, but also to humanize what it means to be shut out of the ruling class in a way that's not so much about hate as it is adoration, a belittlement based on fear and envy.
The story is pretty simple, like all great horror movies. Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, even better than he was in Black Mirror) has a white girlfriend (Alison Williams, just plain perfect), Rose Armitage. Chris and Rose are going to visit Rose's family for the first time, and guess what? She hasn't told them he's black. Once they arrive (after a run-in with a deer and a policeman), the gaze of the movie sets its sights on the opulence and appurtenances of Rose's mother and father (both doctors) and her douche-bag of a brother. Here we have the reversal of tropes: freakishness in the guise of white-people in posh circumstances, with Chris the horror-movie innocent negotiating the strangeness and ickiness. The "ickiness" is most on display when other Armitage family and friends visit for a dinner party wherein they put on the happy-happy smiles of white people welcoming a black person into their midst. The arrogance of the scenes here topple into the grotesque; each of the rich white folks at the party finds ways to compliment Chris on his athletic prowess, his muscular beauty, his genetic strengths. It's not about pushing him away; it's about somehow owning his identity without wanting to know him.
That's the crux of the horror here, that dinner party by the lake. It has the fever and fright of everyday embarrassment and condescension merged with the promise that the paranoiac atmosphere will soon boil over into sordid hypnotic realities: abduction, enslavement, basement brain surgery.
Get Out's plot is funky enough to be both genre frenetic and yet perfectly, coolly satirical. Peele never loses sight of genre-movie pleasures, while also using them to help us feel and understand what it means to be shut out of the world, completely ostracized, while also being smiled at and cajoled and patted on the back. Rose's dad, after all, would have voted for Obama's third term if he could have.
Within this maelstrom of manners and terrors, our avatar is beautifully performed by Kaluuya. He's the center-point here, and as we follow him through his paces we start to understand the totality of all the little humiliations he has to go through. The smiles that kind of make you feel sick. The ongoing onslaught of conversation that has nothing to do with who you are and yet everything about who they think you are, or at least they think you should be. Kaluuya's brilliant, intelligent eyes shine out of all that bullshit, as he tries to remain rational, as he tries to remain alive.
I never really liked Key and Peele's sketch-show on Comedy Central too much. It always seemed to be trying way too hard to make points that have already been made, and the more they went at it, the more tiresome it got. But Get Out is the complete opposite of that kind of exhaustion; it has a freshness to it, a sense of righteousness devoid of self-righteousness, exercising a brand of humor that's both ghastly and completely optimistic, unique. After you see this movie, you feel smarter somehow, edified. Most movies don't have the guts or brains to edify anyone. Get Out has guts and brains galore. It skewers (literally at times) a brand of poshness and stupidity heretofore often left out of horror-movie villainy: pleasant, professional white people in palatial lake-houses, stirring their cups of tea, smiling like they have everything and know everything, and are just waiting to let you have it.