By: Mark Farmer, Entertainment Writer
Get Out opened in theaters nationwide last weekend, making it the directorial debut of comedian Jordan Peele. David Kaluuya stars as a photographer who travels with his girlfriend to visit her family out in the country, only to find that something seems terribly off about the family and their home.
I should start this review off by first explaining that I’m not one to watch horror movies. While I can definitely appreciate them from afar, I likely wouldn’t willingly watch one unless I was under extraneous circumstances. Of course, this past weekend, I found myself in just such a situation this past weekend. I wasn’t planning on seeing Get Out for this week’s review, but two things tithed me over: Jordan Peele and stellar reviews.
This, as previously noted, is the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, most famous for his Comedy Central sketch series, “Key & Peele,” co-created by himself and Keegan-Michael Key. Their award-winning sketch series highlighted pop-culture, ethnic stereotypes, and race relations- All of which are heavily featured in 2017’s Get Out. These aspects, plus the fact that only one critic has written a negative review on the movie, drew me to crawl out of my comfort zone and seeing Get Out.
Let me start off by saying this is definitely not a comedy sketch in any sense; Jordan Peele rarely utilizes his comedic chops, save for a few scenes where he tries to ease the tension with some great laugh-out-loud moments. Folks hoping for a rip on horror movies by Peele should stay at home and keep watching MADtv sketches instead.
If you’re seeking a good thriller, however, you’re in for a trip- Jordan Peele very carefully navigates well-trodden ground as he crafts a very off-putting aura for the film. The writing allows audiences to breathe between freak-out moments- and I don’t mean jump scares. Tiny pieces of information are slow-dripped to viewers, where well-shot scenes are coupled with an excellent score which altogether alert the audience that something is up. But the best part is that there is plenty of space in these moments; Viewers should rarely feel like they’re stumbling upon scream after scream, just to make them squirm in their seat and feel embarrassed afterwards.
Michael Abels, for his first film score ever, composes a wonderful set of pungent tracks that back some of the movie’s weirdest moments. While it starts off as a rather generic composition, with punchy strings akin to Bernard Herrmann’s 1960 Psycho score, it evolves into a sound much more deeply rooted in African-American culture, with heavy Blues influences and Swahili voices dotting the score. This sound really changes the atmosphere of the film, and expands as it continues- The craziest parts of the movie are where the music really transforms into something completely different. It’s a wonderful accent to some great scenes.
While Peele does make use of some pretty typical horror film tropes that I picked up on as they were hashed out in front of me, I don’t think these really ruined the movie in any way. Unlike other movies, viewers will absolutely enter Get Out knowing that something sinister is going on, and something terrible is about to happen. While Peele may do a great job at slowly dolling out details, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone when a “red flag” shows up indicating that something fishy is going on. Basic horror tropes don’t necessarily ruin these movies- They only cause problems when they become the crux of the film (which they don’t in Get Out).
But how much further does this film go than being just a “horror movie?” Both white and black ethnic stereotypes are abound in Get Out, and they aren’t just for comedic effect. Kaluuya’s character, Chris, begins the film by asking his girlfriend if her family knows he is black. While she assures him that it isn’t an issue, throughout the film, Chris begins to feel more and more uncomfortable while on the Armitage family property, as the home, its inhabitants, its visitors, and its grounds all start to remind him of a Southern plantation from the antebellum era. What exactly does Jordan Peele say in Get Out about American race relations?
Truthfully, not much of anything. If anything, the biggest statement about race issues in the movie is that, well, they exist. Chris constantly second-guesses himself as everyone he interacts with speaks about his race in a bizarre or unfriendly manner, until he finally works up the courage to raise issue with these problems. In the end, Chris finds that he was right- Something was wrong, and he was right to be concerned. But that’s about all there is to it; Peele never goes the extra step.
Is this a problem? Absolutely not! Especially for a directorial debut, it makes sense to play it safe and just make a great horror movie without trying to make subtle political statements or assertions on social issues. Not only this, but the typical audience member going to see a horror movie will likely begin feeling “preached at” the moment any statement is even hinted at. But the motifs in this movie are so strong, they feel like a giant neon sign pointing to an empty void. There’s so much set-up to this aspect of the movie, but nothing more is said about it.
I bring this up because while Get Out is a wonderful horror movie, it isn’t really anything more than just that- a horror movie. There’s nothing else special about its existence other than the fact that it really nails what it’s supposed to be doing, which is making people feel uncomfortable. Get Out is wonderful in this regard, but don’t expect it to go any further than just an enjoyable thriller.