Now that Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young African-American man, and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), a young white woman, have been dating for several months, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate at her family’s home with parents Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford). At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he could have never imagined. (From Blumhouse’s official synopsis)
Complaining about the tastes of mainstream cinema audiences is a favorite movie nerd pastime. Conventional tastes drive the entire industry and, when they are ‘wrong,’ that ‘wrongness’ leads to unnecessary sequels, dumb trends, diminishing returns, and five Transformers movies. However, most truly great mainstream releases eventually find their audience and most mediocre movies are forgotten – it just takes some time. Then, there are those unusual cases where truly great films with something important to say infiltrate the system, become surprise blockbusters, and restore our faith in our fellow man. The horror genre is arguably the bastion of such sleeper hits, from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), to Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez’ The Blair Witch Project (1999) and James Wan’s Saw (2004). Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions was built on the reputation of one of the most profitable surprises of all time – Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity (2007) and has maintained a low-cost/high-reward business model for a decade now, leading them to incredible earnings on Wan’s Insidious franchise (2010-2018) and James DeMonaco’s Purge franchise (2013-2018), among others.
Their latest hit, Jordan Peele’s Get Out (which is now the second highest-grossing R-rated horror film of all time, not adjusted for inflation), proves that the Blumhouse business model can produce not only hits, but allow first-time filmmakers to take chances with uncomfortable, socially relevant subjects. They’ve made a film that really matters and that has reasserted my faith in the movie-going public with its near-universal audience and critical acclaim. And, make no mistake, Get Out was a gamble from the beginning. Besides its incendiary themes (more on those in a second), it was written and directed by one-half of a sketch comedy team who had never taken credit for directing anything in his entire career – not even his own television series, Key & Peele. On top of this, his only film writing credit and lead film role was on a not particularly profitable or good action comedy, Keanu (2016), his partner, Keegan-Michael Key, had nothing to do with Get Out script, Peele himself would not be performing in the film, and it was a horror movie, not a comedy (though it does, of course, have some funny moments). The fact that it was good is amazing. The fact that people responded to it so positively is a miracle.
The rest of this review’s feature section will contain spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film yet, please don’t ruin it for yourself and skip ahead to the video section.
Get Out utilizes the common sci-fi/horror trope of identity theft. Since the days of Don Siegel’s original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (based on the novel by Jack Finney, originally serialized in Colliers Magazine in 1954), this common phobia, tied to cultural change, social substitution, and loss of self, has become the go-to standard for socio-political horror subtext. Other movies have famously used the formula – John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), the Quatermass series (created by Nigel Kneale), David Cronenberg’s Shivers (1975) and Videodrome (1983), Bryan Forbes’ The Stepford Wives (1975, based on the book by Ira Levin and another major influence on Peele’s screenplay), Robert Rodriguez’ The Faculty (1998), and even Romero’s zombie movies, to a certain degree – but Invasion of the Body Snatchers was the subgenre’s keystone and was remade every few decades. Siegel’s version was about the rising tide of Communism (in one way or another, depending on who you ask), Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version explored the terrors of a failed hippie generation, and Abel Ferrara’s 1993 version, Body Snatchers, applied the model to a military setting. The new millennium was robbed of a proper retelling when Oliver Hirschbiegel’s The Invasion (2007) was the victim of massive rewrites, studio meddling, re-shoots, and other production issues, but, given the apparent lack of another official adaptation in the next two years, I think that Get Out gets to be our official unofficial Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the 2010s.
As a white man (a cishet one at that) who does his best to recognize and oppose racism without actually have to deal with it on a day-to-day basis, I had made many assumptions about this movie before seeing it and while watching it. My key supposition and biggest mistake was that Peele would be dealing with the social horror of racism in a way that me and other ‘well-meaning white people’ can automatically recognize. I expected clearly stated prejudices and villains that spouted venomous xenophobia. Classic horror movies, like Night of the Living Dead and Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), are concerned with this type of brutal tribalism and such metaphors would seem relevant in Trump’s America. Rose’s family lives on a large estate that bears more than a passing resemblance to a Southern plantation house. They have two suspiciously obedient black servants. They and their friends keep complimenting Chris on his genetics. The only other black man in the area is apparently brainwashed and being held against his will. Then, most suspiciously, the middle-aged white people appear to bid on Chris while he’s away from the party with Rose. All evidence seems to be pointing to blatant social Darwinism and most of the audience (including myself) likely assumes that this malevolent cabal is forcefully turning black people into slaves.
But Peele wrote Get Out during the early years of Obama’s America, when idiotic political pundits declared that racism was over. This story is really about the harder to see, but equally sinister horrors of the more subtle racism practiced by so-called bleeding heart liberals and other ‘allies.’ As the villains, their actual motivations and their science fiction techniques are slowly revealed, the audience is left to make its assumptions and Chris is forced to evade a minefield of microaggressions from Rose’s family/friends, unaware of their secret auction. To his chagrin, when he interacts with these people, they talk over him and almost exclusively about the achievements of black Americans. No one ever flat out says something as daft as “You’re so articulate,” but the unspoken subtext is still quite thick. All Chris can do is smile awkwardly and excuse himself from the situation.
Then, the cabal’s actual plan is revealed – using a mix of emotional manipulation, experimental hypnotism, and state-of-the-art surgical techniques, Rose’s family is ‘snatching’ the bodies of healthy black people and replacing their brains with those of rich people who, for one reason or another, are no longer satisfied living in their ‘substandard’ bodies. Minus the racial component, this is standard sci-fi/horror identity theft and there’s a whole other subset of stories about people with power, who fear death and decay, robbing the vitality of the lower social classes (Brian Yuzna’s Society, 1989; Robert S. Fiveson’s Parts: The Clonus Horror, 1979; and Richard Fleischer’s Soylent Green, 1973, for example). But the racial component is what defines Peele’s greater message about the exploitation of minority culture. These villains, who herald the achievements of black athletes and claim that they would’ve “voted for Obama a third time,” are committing the ultimate act of cultural appropriation, stealing a minority culture and gentrifying black people by literally evicting from their own bodies.
Like the best allegorical horror movies, Get Out does require the audience to relate to its creepy vision of liberal American racism. Oblivious audiences can still appreciate Peele’s considerable filmmaking skills. If I’m looking for things to be critical about, I suppose that the film has a generic digital photography aesthetic, but it’s not as if it’s an unattractive or technically deficient movie – especially not for a modestly budgeted feature debut. The slow-burn, screw-tightening suspense and ensuing climatic mayhem all seem like second nature and exist to support the focus on characters and themes. For instance, Chris’ mother’s death isn’t only exploited by Rose’s mother, Missy, when she first hypnotizes him (using the sound of a silver spoon as it stirs the liquid within a porcelain teacup – this movie is absolutely oozing with symbolism), but it is an ongoing emotional motif that defines Chris’ humanity outside of his race. When he and Rose hit a doe on the way to her parents’ house, he is, of course, disturbed, but the depth of his connection to this seemingly random tragedy isn’t immediately apparent, until Peele links the doe’s protracted death to that of his mother. This isn’t merely a clever visual analogue, but a potent shorthand to understanding the main protagonist on a deeper level (Daniel Kaluuya’s fabulous performance doesn’t hurt, either).
Get Out was shot using Arri Alexa mini digital cameras (mastered in 2K, according to IMDb specs) and is presented here in 1080p, 2.40:1 HD video. As I mentioned in the review above, Peele and cinematographer Toby Oliver opt for a somewhat generic, but ultimately quite neat and tidy digital video look. Everything is super-clean, crisp, and there isn’t a notable compression artifact in sight. The daylight sequences are a soft mix of saturated pastels and sunny yellow tints. Details are sharp, but not at the risk of the plush gradations and sort of hyper-realistic overall appearance. The nighttime scenes and dark interiors skew blue and teal with desaturated warm highlights (‘Caucasian tan’ is a pretty good descriptor for most warm colors in these cases) and harsher contrast levels. Here, details tend to be a little tighter, though the stronger highlights and deeper blacks absorb some of the more subtle patterns. Still, even the hardest lines don’t feature haloes and the shaded blues/teals aren’t muddled by blocking.
Get Out is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. Peele and the sound designers/editors set the mood early by contrasting the ‘safe,’ dry city environment with the dangerous environmental ambience of the suburbs. The film also employs the tried and true method of establishing suspense by layering quiet moments and spiking them with loud startles. The film’s score was written by Michael Abels, an orchestral composer known for combining classical music with blues, jazz, and traditional African motifs. Most of this music is understated, melancholically underlining seemingly innocuous sequences, but there are plenty of aggressive, multi-channel, LFE-rumbling cues as well, usually during scary or emotionally devastating moments. Fun trivia nugget: The shatteringly creepy main title theme, entitled "Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga," is sung in Swahili and the lyrics translate to "Brother, run/Listen to the elders/Listen to the truth/Run away/Save yourself."
Commentary by writer/director Jordan Peele – Peele does his best to cover all aspects of his film, such as its many references, underlying concepts, and deeper meaning, in the limited time he has. He’s occasionally guilty of narrating the on-screen action, but there’s still plenty of information here. It’s sometimes funny, too, though Peele is definitely not in stand-up comedy mode.
Alternate ending with optional Peele commentary (3:39, HD) – I bet folks can guess what happens differently.
Five deleted/extended/alternate scenes with optional Peele commentary (23:03)
Unveiling the Horror of Get Out (8:50, HD) – A pretty fluffy set of press interviews and footage from the film.
Q&A discussion with Peele and cast members Lil Rel Howery, Daniel Kaluuya, and Allison Williams, hosted by Chance the Rapper (5:28, HD)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.