I’ve been wanting to see this one for a while, and so it becomes the inaugural movie of the 2023 horror season! The movie is Get Out, the first film directed by Jordan Peele, whom I previously knew from his work in sketch comedy as part of the duo Key & Peele. That background in comedy, in addition to the reputation of this movie as a “black horror movie,” made me a bit worried that the tone of this would be off, or that it would be preoccupied with scoring political points or something, rather than concentrating on the horror. But as we’ll see, my worries were misplaced: the horror is front and center, albeit drawing upon specifically African-American anxieties for its power.
Chris is a black photographer in Brooklyn with a white girlfriend, Rose. They’ve been dating for four months, and Rose thinks it’s time for Chris to travel to her family’s home in upstate New York to meet her parents. On the morning they’re to leave, Chris asks if her parents know yet that he’s black. She answers in the negative and pooh-poohs his worries that this might be a problem. She explains her parents are uber-liberal, but Chris isn’t quite re-assured.
Chris’s reception by Rose’s parents turns out to be warm and welcoming (“We’re huggers!”), if a bit awkward when her father asks Chris “how long this thang has been going on.” At dinner that evening, Rose’s mother, Missy (played by Catherine Keener), a therapist who specializes in hypnotic treatment, notices that Chris is restless and correctly guesses he has recently given up smoking. She makes an offer to help him with hypnotherapy but he declines. Rose’s brother, Jeremy, asks Chris about which sports he likes and suggests that “with his genetics” he would “be a beast” as a mixed martial artist. Most awkward of all, Rose’s parents employ two African-American servants, Walter and Georgina, who act excessively subservient and speak in a stereotypically white fashion.
That evening after everybody’s in bed, Chris goes for a walk on the grounds. Just as he’s about to give in and smoke a cigarette, Walter runs suddenly by, nearly knocking him down. A bit shaken, Chris returns to the house. Missy is waiting in her office and when he passes by, she invites him in and asks a few questions about the death of his mother which he doesn’t answer. She repeatedly taps a spoon rhythmically against a teacup, and without realizing what is happening, Chris is hypnotized. Missy asks him again about his mother dying and now Chris speaks truthfully. Then Missy says “sink” and Chris finds himself in a sort of astral place where he can only see what’s happening in the real world through a sort of television screen.
The next morning, Chris wakes up in his own bed and assumes the whole hypnosis session was merely an unpleasant dream. That afternoon, Rose’s family is hosting a lawn party with lots of wealthy older white people. When Chris sees another young black man there named Logan, he introduces himself but is taken aback when Logan speaks in a stereotypically white way. What’s more, Chris thinks he recognizes Logan and takes a picture. The flash seems to set Logan off and his nose begins to bleed. He lunges at Chris, shouting “Get out!”
After the incident with Logan, Chris and Rose decide to ditch the party and go back to Brooklyn. While they’re gone, the party-goers hold a bingo game that is actually a silent auction at which they appear to auction Chris off to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, a friend of Chris’s back in Brooklyn, to whom he sent the picture of Logan, recognizes him as a resident of a nearby block who’s been missing for six months. Chris, packing to leave, discovers a box in Rose’s closet with pictures of her on dates with numerous African-American men, when she had previously told him she had never before dated inter-racially.
Chris demands they leave immediately, but Rose can’t find the car keys. In the foyer, Jeremy and the other family members show up and surround Chris, and Rose reveals takes her family’s side. He tries to fight his way out but Missy taps a spoon rhythically against a tea cup and Chris immediately falls into a trance. When he wakes up, he’s strapped into a chair in the basement rec room. Will he be able to escape and find out what’s really up with Rose’s family?
Get Out (2017)
Story/Plot/Characters— This was a really intriguing plot, and after the point where I stop describing it above, it crescendoes to a really over-the-top climax. The acting is top-notch with a mix of well-known actors like Catherine Keener and talented newcomers, and they have good dialogue to work with. Chris is sympathetic and all the characters are established as believable early on, which lends plausibility to the later over-the-top events. It turns just a bit pedestrian in the very final scene, keeping it from the full four points. (3.5 points)
Special Effects— Not too many special effects, at least until the final ten minutes or so. The sort of astral place where Chris “sinks” when under hypnosis comes across as kind of cheesy. (1.5 points)
Scariness— This plays, I think, on the fears a black man dating a white woman might have about losing the culture he grew up with, using extreme exaggeration to literalize those anxieties. Plus, it has some old-fashioned horror scares. Not too scary, but a nice mix of modern worries and traditional horror creepiness. (1 point)
Atmosphere/Freakiness— Rose’s family and their estate and subservient black servants get continually creepier as the movie goes on, culminating in a freaky over-the-top denoument. (1.5 points)
Total=7.5 points (Excellent)
An Excellent movie that never falters in tone or pacing (except just a bit in the final minute or so) and has a nice mix of contemporary social anxieties and horror creepiness.