by Miguel E. Rodriguez
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 98% Certified Fresh
Everyone’s a Critic Category: “Watch a Low-Budget Blockbuster” [Budget: $4.5 million. Worldwide Gross: $255 million.]
PLOT: A young African American visits his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend, where his simmering uneasiness about their reception of him eventually reaches a boiling point.
Many years ago, I attended a wedding in New York. After the ceremony was over, I stepped outside to watch it snow. After a couple of minutes of me standing outside alone wearing a tux, a very polite man walked up to me, held out his keys, and said something like, “The blue Buick in the second row, please.” After I explained to him that I was not, in fact, the valet, he apologized profusely and went back inside, clearly embarrassed. (I’ve always regretted what I should have done: just taken the keys, gotten in the car, and driven it out of the parking lot while waving goodbye. Yes, I would have returned it, but imagine the look on that guy’s face…!)
I have been lucky and, yes, privileged enough that, in fifty-one-and-a-half years of living on planet Earth, that is only the second time I have ever been the target of overt racism, intentional or not. I will never ever know what it’s like to have to think twice before walking alone at night while wearing a hoodie. I’ll never know what it’s like to literally fear for my life when a cop signals me to pull over. The beauty of Jordan Peele’s Get Out is that it addresses the issue of what it’s like to be African-American today in a way that is so entertaining that the subtlety of the screenplay is only apparent when you watch the movie a second or third time. Unless you’re African-American, in which case the symbolism and sly satire is not so subtle.
After a brief terrifying prologue, we meet Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya in his breakout role) who is about to visit his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. His girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), is white. He wonders if her parents are aware he’s black: “I don’t wanna get chased off the lawn with a shotgun.” Rose casually dismisses his concerns: “First of all, my dad would have voted for Obama a third time if he could’ve.”
On the drive to her folks’ house, a startling and intensely creepy incident/accident occurs followed by a tense moment involving a white police officer asking to see Chris’s driver’s license even though he wasn’t driving. Rose valiantly tells the officer off for profiling, and he lets them off with a warning. This is just one of the many ways the screenplay probes and exploits the inherent fears of the average viewer. Even if Chris had been white, it would still be a foreboding scene. Because of the additional racial tension, the scene crackles with suspense.
Things get progressively weirder from there. Chris meets Rose’s parents, Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford), along with their groundskeeper and maid, Walter and Georgina, both of whom are black. Walter and Georgina’s behavior is just plain odd. Their sole purpose seems to be to make Chris (and the audience) say, “What the f**k” repeatedly. Dean directly addresses Chris’s apprehension: “I know what it looks like: a white family with black servants.” His explanation of why they’re there answers Chris’s questions without really answering them if you follow me.
It would be unfair of me to describe any further plot details. I’m sure those of you who’ve seen the movie would agree. But I will issue a SPOILER WARNING for the remainder of the review. Consider yourself warned.
Get Out is one of the most original, most effective modern horror films I’ve seen since The Descent (2005) and The Babadook (2014). I have rarely been so glued to a screen. The way director Jordan Peele ratchets up the creepiness levels is virtually unparalleled. Here is a first film that rivals M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999) in terms of how to manipulate an audience. Look at the moment when Chris sneaks out of the house for a cigarette, looks around, and suddenly spies Walter, the groundskeeper, running towards him in the night. No, not running…sprinting. Silently. When I watched this for the first time on my own, I literally said, out loud, “What the s**t…???” I can’t remember when I’ve seen anything like that in a suspense film.
Take the moment when Chris gets involved in a late-night discussion with Missy (Rose’s mom) that turns into an impromptu therapy/hypnosis session. When Missy calmly says, “Sink,” and Chris actually does, and we see him floating in some kind of limbo, I felt the same kind of transfixed curiosity that I felt while watching Under the Skin (2013). I had absolutely no clue what was happening or why, and I couldn’t wait until I could get answers. When those answers come, they are both gratifying and suitably horrific. Remember those old commercials for the American Negro College Fund? The tagline was, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” You will never think of that line the same way again after watching Get Out.
Peele was wise enough to include some comic relief in the form of his best friend, Rod (Lil Rel Howery), who works for the TSA and ironically gets closer to the truth of what’s going on at Rose’s house than he or anyone else realizes. If the movie has a single weak spot, though, this might be it. Rod is so comic it feels as if he was lifted directly from a romantic comedy. Sometimes his delivery and dialogue feel a little too much like he’s trying for laughs rather than just being himself. This is a minor quibble, though…he is funny as hell, especially during a phone conversation between him and Rose.
The bottom line, as if you couldn’t tell, is that Get Out is a sensational movie, containing more levels than “Super Mario Bros.” and more food for thought than a Judd Apatow dramedy. It’s one of those movies where, if I hear anyone hasn’t seen it, not only do I recommend it unreservedly, but I immediately ask if I can watch it while they watch it for the first time. Just to see their reactions.
SELECTED QUESTIONS FROM EVERYONE’S A CRITIC
- Do you feel a larger budget would make this film better or worse?
…that’s a tough question. As you can see from my 10/10 rating, the movie is just about perfect as it is. What might change with a larger budget? A more realistic-looking deer corpse? A wide-angle shot of…something…burning? Maybe they wouldn’t have gone with Daniel Kaluuya, or maybe Rose would have been played by, I dunno, Emmy Rossum or Lily James. So, I guess my answer is, a bigger budget would make this film worse. The filmmakers made the choices they made because of their limitations, and those choices resulted in a masterpiece of the genre. It’s like Salieri says in Amadeus when describing Mozart’s music: “Displace one note, and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase, and the structure would fall.”
- Were you surprised by the ending? What would you do differently?
Because of how the very ending of the film is structured, yes, I was surprised by the ending. In fact, on the blu-ray, we can see the original filmed ending, and it’s what I feel might have been a more realistic ending. As it is, the new ending is very satisfying on an emotional level, but I will always wonder how that original ending might have been received by general audiences. Probably not well. Imagine putting your hero up a tree, story-wise, then setting the tree on fire…but instead of getting him out of the tree, firemen chop the tree down and the hero is falsely arrested for arson. Something like that can work – look at Body Heat (1981) and the original director’s cut of The Descent. But Get Out provides a much more cathartic resolution and gets a smile on your face when you walk out the theater instead of shaking your head ruefully.
On the next “episode” of Everyone’s a Critic: “Watch a Film Starring Animals.” I’m leaning towards The Black Stallion, but stay tuned…