There was a time in Vegas back in 2011 when, while overwatching a game of blackjack that a friend of mine was participating in, I got to see the kind of racism that Jordan Peele’s Get Out focuses on at first hand. At this table sat my friend, who was also joined by a young African-American man and maybe a small handful of other budding gamblers. Among these others was a Chad. You know the type: Ed Hardy tanktop, fratboy demeanour, archetypically white. He probably completed the look with a backwards cap and a shitty bicep tattoo - although my fuzzy memory has mercifully spared me that certainty. What I do remember is that, not long after stumbling over to spunk away his last few chips for the night, shitfaced-drunk Chad soon cottoned on to his prey at the table. He leaned over to his fellow punter - whose reason for earning such attention simply seemed to stem from that he was black - and began with an opening gambit.
“Sup homie, how you doin’ tonight?”
Like most people dealing with unwanted attention from intoxicated mouthbreathers, his target responded with a simple pleasantry, a few token sentences for smalltalk purposes, before ditching the exchange and getting on with the game.
Unwavered, The Chad tried a few more times to strike up a conversation with a man he was determined to make his New Ethnic Friend. He was met with polite, yet non-committed responses every time. And so, he unleashed his final attack - one not done out of desperation, but out of a certain modicum of mis-applied confidence that he knew exactly the words to make his target warm to him.
“You like music? I fuckin’ love rap music.”
The Chad’s assault didn’t stop there. He reeled all of his knowledge on the hip-hop artists he was familiar with, and this eager, jocked-up Vanilla Ice knew his stuff. Jay-Z. Drake... Jay-Z. This man was clearly a connoisseur of everything there was to know about the genre, and his New Ethnic Friend would clearly be impressed by this Clearly Down-With-It White Man. He ended his rather short list of musicians with a vocal punctuating of his own self-assurance of that fact. “Real shit, bro.”
His new friend just nodded and said nothing.
The rest of the story is unimportant - ultimately the Chad lost his last few chips, got laughed at by my friend for being an arse, and then got kicked out of the casino by security for picking a fight with him. Also, it’s not for me, as a white man, to use this anecdote as a means to be offended on behalf of a demographic I’m not a part of (although I can still say it was a shitty thing to witness). But it did expose me to a different blend of racism that doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves - one that somehow avoids the media attention that notably more violent breeds of black discrimination have continued to garner. But for every act of police brutality, more subtle transgressions persist - the furore surrounding a certain Rachel Dolezal is a testament to that. Active oppression of black culture has been front and centre of racial debate for decades, but what hasn’t been nearly as dissected is the white liberal fetishization of such culture. And with its clever story, increasingly unnerving atmosphere and scintillating climax, Get Out lays bare the true ugliness that rests at the heart of this superficially well-meaning, but ever so off-the-mark flavour of white anxiety toward black relations.
Also, even without its strong, resonant message on race, it’s still a tremendously well-done horror movie in its own right.
Daniel Kaluuya of Sicario and Black Mirror fame takes the lead for this psychologically disturbing tale of a man who, through no fault of his own, picks the worst kind of interracial relationship to get into. He plays successful young photographer Chris Washington, who is happily coupled up with girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), and things seem to be going pretty well for the both of them. So well in fact, that Rose now feels the time is right for Chris to meet her family. There’s just one potentially awkward snag - Rose is a white girl, and a very well-off one at that. Her family’s sprawling family estate happily sits nestled away in an invitingly remote but predominantly white corner of East Coast America. Chris naturally has some misgivings on how Rose’s upper-class family will take to their daughter dating a person of color. She insists it’ll be fine however - her family aren’t like ‘those’ kind of white people. With Rose’s assurances in mind, and the fact that meeting her parents is an inevitable step he’d have to take to advance his relationship with her anyway, he agrees to spend a few days accompanying her for a short stay with them.
The drive up to the estate isn’t without its bumps either. Somewhere out on a deserted woodland highway, Chris and Rose hit a deer - a brief but brutally sudden flashpoint that serves as an early underlining of the film’s adept ability to bring shock without warning. This is then followed by another short scene that serves as a prologue for the racial trepidation of the feature - Rose calls a cop down to investigate the struck deer, who then finds himself more interested in asking for Chris’ driving license than addressing the matter at hand. Barely ten minutes in and, springboarded by an unsettling intro prior to this involving another black character being brutally attacked and thrown into the trunk of a car while working through a plush white suburb at night, the movie has already placed its atmosphere nicely on edge. The very moment Chris meets Rose’s family for the first time however, is when this sense of agitation truly begins to gather in magnitude.
The Armitages, on the surface, seem like your typically well-off liberal white family. But something is clearly very off about their overtly forced welcome - Rose’s father Dean (Bradley Whitford) embraces him in an all-too-chummy fashion, indulging in feeble attempts at urban slang while exchanging pleasantries with him. The misguided epithetical placations don’t stop there either. As Dean shows Chris around the Armitage estate, he stops to show him a picture of his father on the wall, pointing out his quality as a track athlete who lost out only to Jesse Owens when qualifying for the U.S team for the 1936 Olympics - rhetoric about Owens defeating Hitler’s ideals in tow. Dean’s attempts at forced racial kinship continue - a blurted desire to have voted for Obama a third term is one particular highlight - but something else catches Chris’ eye during this tour of white affluence and black pedestaling. While giving Dean’s clearly race-influenced obsequiousness the lip service it’s due, he notices that the two servants of the estate, housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundsman Walter (Marcus Henderson), are also black. While he doesn’t have a chance to interact with them just yet, he makes a plan to introduce himself later, the off-base mystery of their presence - and their ethnicity - already on his mind.
It all adds up to an increasingly disquieting opening half that slowly dials up the discomfort via Chris being subjected to gradually increasing amplitudes of soft-handed bigotry - the kind that will make white viewers squirm in their seats at their own kind (and perhaps their own mindset), and viewers of any other ethnicity indulge a wry nod at the familiarity of its tone. It also gets markedly weirder with the introduction of each new character too - Rose’s oddball drunken brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) suggests that Chris would be a ‘beast’ at MMA simply because of his ‘superior genetic makeup’, while mother Missy, a hypnotherapist, subjects him to a terrifying hallucinatory experience when trying to cure his smoking addiction - a scene both worthy of withholding spoilers on, and one that sets the timer ticking for the crazed descent into horror and madness that envelops the movie’s second half. But the most disconcerting moments of the opening chapters come from when Chris is finally able to engage with Georgina and Walter - and find that they are every bit as vapidly polite and off-key as the hosts of the house are. It’s not exactly an original revelation - you could count the number of films and TV shows that involve an unsuspecting individual landing themselves in a odd situation with odd people by the dozens - but the racial element of this scenario pushes it all down to an uneasier depth. Especially so when you wonder just, if the Armitages have done something malicious to force their house-servants into the state they’re in, what they’re going to end up doing to Chris next.
Chris though, as indicated by his shrewd deflection to all of the family’s false-positive stereotyping, is more than sharp-eyed enough to realize there’s something seriously disturbing going on beneath all the niceties, despite Rose’s constant affirmations to the contrary. It should be worth mentioning here that Kaluuya really does bring a top-notch performance in the lead role. He furthers his credentials as one of the best young actors in film today by instilling in Chris a deferring weariness with how he responds to the Armitages and their unfolding strangeness - a clever foil to disguise both the bemusement and the survival-instinct tension he’s hiding underneath. His fears are only fully confirmed by a middle act involving a garden function with the Armitages’ friends which, while rather repetitive with the themes it regurgitates (more white people talking about how great Tiger Woods is), hammers home the certainty that he’s in a nest of white affluent vipers amiably preparing to eat him alive. The how and why it will come about is still unclear at this point - but when even the only other black invitee to this party exhibits the same kind of kookiness that everyone else is putting on show, the suspense in the questions Get Out continues to pose simply becomes too great - so it’s only natural that their answers explode in bloody, psychologically sickening fashion in an unforgettable final act.
Peele’s excellent writing, both in dialogue and pacing, shows a perfect knack for knowing exactly where and when to ladle on a little extra anxiety and perturbation to keep Get Out’s tension palpable without allowing it to burst at the seams. The influences in the story’s delivery might be a bit too obvious - for certain, both 60s chiller Rosemary’s Baby and the slow, creeping cerebral dread of Hitchcock’s best movies spring to mind - but their re-uses are most definitely in reverence rather than plagiarism, and they most definitely bring the film up another level. There is nothing subtle about the climax however, when the full machinations of the Armitages are finally revealed. Suddenly jolting to an exhilarating, non-stop bloodbath so nerve-wracking that it takes all of your reserve to keep yourself from yelling at the screen for Chris to do like the title and get out, the final chapter most definitely shares a tone more in line with the classic Evil Dead than any other horror flick of old. But even then, so unpredictable is its delivery - perhaps thanks to the film only at this point delivering such shocking discoveries that the viewer has no time for further prognosis - that its most heart-stopping moment comes via the mere arrival of a far more mundane plot vehicle (pun maybe intended) than anything that Chris’ assailants can concoct. It’s a moment where both Peele’s love for the horror movies of old, and the social commentary he’s trying to weave collide, and it’s a brilliant culmination - one that definitely leaves you hanging by a thread, both for Chris’ fortunes and your own rose-tinted perceptions of modern-day racial harmony.
There is also, if you can believe it, a comedy element to discuss as well. Chris fortunately has an ally he can rely on during his time in dangerous territory - TSA agent and close friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), who serves as a vital endpoint for Chris to relay his unsettling experiences to, as well as provide crucial advice in return. Rod’s words of wisdom - which usually come in various forms of telling Chris to escape his white captors while he still can - are both hilarious and, like all great comedy, have at least one foot uncomfortably placed in truth. His scenes work so well that they do also end up serving as occasionally unnecessary distractions from all the edge-of-the-seat apprehension that the film revels so much in, but that probably highlights just how well Howery seizes his on-screen moments. He still nonetheless becomes a very necessary side character as the film rollercoasters towards its incredible end, and while his quips and punchlines might be a diversion, they never become an irritation threatening to remove the viewer from the movie.
Get Out’s message of white liberal hypocrisy toward so-called minority groups, which even stretches out to become a criticism of white culture misappropriating - and devouring - other cultures, is an incredibly powerful and fundamental one for our times. It helps too that both Peele and the cast he has assembled for his piece rarely put a foot wrong in delivering it, and its subtle nods to classic horror movies of the past, despite the potential juxtaposition, are a perfect compliment to its critique of America’s current crossroads on the topic of race relations. Our age says a lot about how far we’ve come that such a movie could be made, and be so successful. Get Out itself, however, will be keen to remind us that, even in an age where a black president has come and gone, the road to racial equality is still a long one - no matter how many white liberals would have voted him in for a third term.