Movie Review: Get Out (2017)
Great premise: Using the tropes of the horror genre to tell the story of Chris Williams (Daniel Kaluuya), a black guy visiting the family of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), somewhere upstate. It’s racial awkwardness as the underlying horror of American society.
Good follow-through: Rose is the white girl who’s obtuse about race, thinking everyone’s cool with everything; the father, Dean (Bradley Whitford), keeps dropping racial references (“I would’ve voted for Obama a third time if I could have”) to show how cool and liberal he is. The brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), is a little weird and challenging, while the mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), is steely and distant, perpetually stirring her tea. They live in a big house, with a circular driveway, surrounded by woods. They have black servants (that’s a little embarrassing) and weird white neighbors who say inappropriate things. Think of the neighbors in “Rosemary’s Baby”: Everyone seems off. They seem like a coven. Like they’re all in on a shared secret they’re not telling our protagonist. Which they are.
The resolution? A little disappointing.
You ready? Turns out Rose is the lure to bring black men and women (mostly men) to the family estate, where the mother hypnotizes them and the father transplants someone else’s brains/consciousness into their body. (Sudden thought: This isn’t far removed from “The Thing with Two Heads,” is it?) The black people are still in there, but they’re trapped, unable to move or speak for themselves. It’s white people who control the body; who, you could say, own the body.
OK, as I write that out, it resonates more than I thought while watching. Could be I was watching through splayed fingers. I’m not particularly good with horror movies, and horror movies in which someone is trapped in their own body are super creepy to me.
Except ... No, there’s still a problem with the metaphor. Controlling the black body, owning the black body, sure, that’s in our history. But being the black body? Most white people don’t want that. Rachel Dolezal notwithstanding.
The two black servants, for example, are actually the Armitage grandparents—the people who started it all. They were about to die and now they’re middle-aged and black and ... servants? Or is that just for show when Rose brings another black kid around? If not, what do they normally do—just hang out at the estate reading magazines?
There’s a scene near the end that indicates why white people wouldn’t want to be the black body. Just before the operation, Chris breaks free, kills the father, mother, brother, grandmother, and, on a country road, covered in blood, near an upturned vehicle, he’s trying to choke the life out of Rose with his bare hands, when we see the flashing red lights of a police car. Right. Try to explain that. Chris slowly raises his hands in the air, but recent history would indicate he wouldn’t make it that far. He only does here because it’s not the cops but his friend, Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a TSA agent, arriving just after the nick of time. Another horror movie trope.
The resolution also diminishes the exquisite earlier awkwardness. So Rose isn't obtuse? The father isn't desperate for Chris' approval? They're faking. Only the mother and brother are what they seem.
Another problem: Why do the Armitages string Chris along the way they do? I get that they can’t operate after the first bout of hypnosis. They have to auction him off to the highest bidder—in this case, Jim Hudson (Stephen Root), a local blind art dealer who likes his “eye” and wants to see again—and the best way to get the highest price is to parade him before the shoppers. But after that, why doesn’t the mother simply do her thing with the teacup? Why leave the photos in the closet? Why show Chris the VHS tape explaining what will happen to him? To terrorize him further? C’mon. The VHS is less to explain the process to Chris than to explain it to us.
The acting is great, by the way, particularly Kaluuya as Chris, Keeler as the steely mom, and Gabriel as the maid/grandmother. That tear coming out of her eye; that sense of a soul being trapped in its own body.
The movie was written and directed by Jordan Peele (of “Key and...”), and one wonders if he’s onto a new type of film here: placing awkward racial matters onto Hollywood genre films. How might it work with rom-coms, westerns, gangster flicks, musicals? Would be interesting to see the attempts, Hollywood.