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There Goes the Neighborhood

Jordan Peele
Jordan Peele
Universal Pictures
 104 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams
Get Out

Ira Levin was one of the more effective thriller writers, with several of his novels and plays having terrific story hooks. He’s best known, however, for a subgenre that, if he didn’t create it, he certainly perfected it, namely, the paranoid thriller. Both Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives involve women in a seemingly ordinary situation who gradually realize that the people around her are indeed out to get her. Both novels were made into top notch films, one an acknowledged classic (Rosemary’s Baby) and the other nearly so. Anyone seeing those films for the first time quickly realizes how many other similar movies that have been made in the ensuing 40 years, including a vastly inferior 2004 remake of Stepford Wives, have employed a similar theme. And, after seeing many of the more recent such thrillers, the phrase, “often imitated, never duplicated” readily comes to mind. Now, however, a most unlikely director takes the basic Stepford framework and puts a most unusual twist on it in Get Out, resulting in a movie that’s likely to be remembered for quite a while.


Get Out was written and directed by Jordan Peele, half of the comedy team of Key and Peele, who, until now had been associated with nothing scarier than the goofball drug dealers in last year’s Keanu. Peele has taken a premise that might easily have been a Wayans Brothers spoof and, instead, threaded the needle carefully between goofball humor and straight horror. The premise of Get Out is similar to those of Levin’s classics, in that the protagonist is isolated in a community whose residents become more menacing by the minute. Only, instead of a white female lead character, Get Out features a young black man, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a successful photographer who accepts the invitation of his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to spend a weekend at the house of her parents.


At first, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) seem like typical well-meaning white liberals who put on perhaps a bit too much of a show about how progressive and tolerant they are. But soon, however, Chris begins to realize that things are a bit off center. Dean and Missy have a couple of live-in black domestic workers, Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel), who don’t seem to be all there. The servants are tremendously placid and monotone, as if they are in a trance, a mood occasionally broken by irrational sounding outbursts. The entire household gives off an antebellum South vibe. Later, when Chris attends a neighborhood party in his honor, the only other black guest there exhibits similar behavior.


Even for those who haven’t seen the spoiler-filled trailer for Get Out, it doesn’t take Chris long to notice that something is very wrong. His best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a veteran conspiracy theorist, notes the disappearance of other young black men in the area in recent months, and warns Chris that something similar may happen to him. Chris is understandably reluctant to buy into these theories, but he recognizes that everybody he has met, both black and white, seems to be acting quite strangely towards him.


Of course, Chris eventually does figure out exactly what is going on and realizes that his life is in big danger. At that moment, the film shifts gears not too convincingly into standard thriller mode, with Chris engaging in various types of often brutal hand-to-hand combat with those meaning to do him harm. The violence is often quite brutal here (Get Out comes by its R-rating honestly), but, also somewhat repetitive. Jordan Peele has no background in action filmmaking, and it shows a bit in his inability to elevate the last 20 minutes of the movie, once all the cards are on the table.


Actually, all the cards are on the table in the superior first 80 minutes or so of Get Out. This is one of the rare movies that holds up well on a second viewing, not because the audience is surprised (obviously, they aren’t), but because they will enjoy seeing just how Peele has dropped every single clue that’s needed to figure out the mystery, but done so in a way that’s usually so clever that the deception resembles a magician’s trick. But while Peele is cleverly hiding what’s up his sleeve, he’s also slowly and inexorably building up the suspense, as Chris finds himself increasing isolated as the movie progresses. Get Out doesn’t have the common variety jump scares we’re accustomed to seeing; instead, Peele substitutes the jolt of recognition at those moments in the film when Chris finally realizes just what he’s gotten himself into.


Get Out is also quite similar to The Stepford Wives in another crucial way as well. Stepford was made in the midst of the early feminist movement, and the horror in that film is based on the reaction the professional, feminist heroine (played by Katherine Ross) has when she realizes that the “Stepford wives” are the ultimate male fantasy of the perfect subservient housewife. Get Out substitutes racial tension for sexual tension of course, but the isolation Chris feels, as the only “normal” black person in a surreal fantasyland is just as compelling.


Peele does something very clever and incisive with his script by making the white characters ostensibly liberals (Dean readily admits he would have voted for Obama for a third term) instead of obviously dangerous rednecks. By doing so, Peele points out something that liberals would like to ignore… namely that they suffer from varying degrees of benign racism, and, indeed, the revelation of what is going on plays far more as an example of seemingly progressive theories run amuck than garden variety hate-filled bigotry. Peele also remembers his comic background, which is evident both in some of the dialogue (especially by Roy), and in the physical humor evident in the obviously off kilter behavior of some of the characters in the film.


Some of the best horror films come complete with genuine, incisive social messages, like the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a paranoid classic in its own right and a thinly veiled allegory about McCarthyism. Get Out isn’t at that same level, but it is a smart thriller, genuinely funny and unnerving, and, moreover, in an era of cookie-cutter horror movies, stays with the audience afterwards as something refreshingly different. Get Out is one horror movie that’s worth getting out to see.

In this scene, a party guest shows an unusual interest in Daniel Kaluuya.

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Get Out (2017) on IMDb