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Anyone who sticks out like a sore thumb in a social setting understands this feeling. Both on the level of general social anxiety that one might experience at the notion of meeting a whole host of new people and also on the level of being the only one who appears different among those people who are total strangers. The feelings that Jordan Peele’s directorial debut film addresses may start out from a place of social discomfort as a basic entry point, and those feelings are authentic, but what we end up experiencing more deeply is how the social discomfort of being the only person who is somehow obviously different can seem like a target for more than just the genuine interest of those who wish to understand what it’s like to live in your shoes. It can seem like social discomfort to the point to where you must do whatever you must to survive the gathering. There is a bullseye on your back and you can’t stop moving because you are much easier to hit if you’re stationary.
The basic premise for Get Out is straightforward enough. Chris (an excellent Daniel Kaaluya), and Rose (an equally stellar Allison Williams) are an interracial couple who are leaving the city for a weekend getaway to visit Rose’s parents for the first time as a couple. Rose’s parents don’t know that Chris is a black man, which arouses some concern for Chris, but Rose assures him that her parents aren’t racists and that they would welcome him with open arms. We know the fact that Chris is a black man from the city and Rose a white woman from privilege is going to play some role in the proceedings here and on the surface the film plays to the expected ways that race factors in, but it is actually more clever than this as it plays on and examines race in ways that are also completely unexpected. Think of the film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. In a few ways, Get Out is a lot like that. Until it isn’t anymore.
The acting in this film is nothing less than phenomenal all the way around. How Peele managed to get the actors he wanted in order to make the film he wanted to make is beyond most to know, but however it happened, the result is magic in the best possible sense. Daniel Kaluuya is amazing as Chris. Anyone who has seen him in films like Sicario or even the Netflix show Black Mirror (which is an excellent showcase of his talents) can attest to his abilities. At first glance, you might have wondered how someone from across the pond might handle the nuances of accurately portraying an African-American male. He does not disappoint, not once. This says a lot about the non-exclusivity of this story in a way, it means that Kaaluya totally gets it in a way that he does not have to be an American. As a black man moving in the world, he has lived Chris’ experience in one way or another or many. Kaluuya taps into the very visceral emotions of the experience, be it fear, anger or genuine vulnerability in a way that makes you feel as unsettled as he is the further we get into the story. He brings real heft to the proceedings and deserves major respect for his work here.
Veteran actors Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener provide sound support as Rose’s parents Missy and Dean Armitage, as do Marcus Henderson and especially the fresh-faced Betty Gabriel as the black employees who work for the Armitage family. But the real standout is Lil Rel Howery, who plays Rod, Chris’s best friend. In most films like this of the horror/thriller ilk, the audience surrogate is typically the lead character, and that is the case here, but a strong argument could also be made for Rod as the character through which audiences can express themselves. It always seems that viewers interact with what is happening on screen in a horror film and, well, Howery’s Rod does and says exactly what we would do and say. The result is brilliant.
Peele gives us a movie that we didn’t know we wanted or needed. It is a love letter to classic horror and suspense films, but it is also a picture that calls out the various behaviors and themes regarding race, what it means to assimilate and/or accept or do whatever else you must to survive. It asks us to examine these things and invites, nay, demands a conversation to be had. Get Out is a film that adds something that feels almost illegal to the long-standing issue of race in this country. It is as if Peele could be arrested for making this film, which in a way airs out all the dirty laundry of micro-aggressions perpetrated against people of color that have been “hiding” in the closets and the basements of this country since the election of Barack Obama. It was the monster of racism’s biggest trick to gets us to believe that it was on the decline and becoming irrelevant or unnecessary to discuss. Now with the gift of this film, the monster is out for all to see. In the current political climate of America, there is no more important a place for that monster to be than outside, where we can all dissect and examine it. One day we may even be able to defeat it, but that day is not today. Jordan Peele exposed this truth. For a “post-racial” world is not the world we live in. Not yet.