Jordan Peele is best known for comedy, as part of the duo Key and Peele, but he’s been interested in horror as well. And so he makes his directorial debut with Get Out, a Stepford Wives-inflected commentary on race relations that has already earned Peele a place among the great horror directors.
The story follows Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) as he drives out of the city with his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) to meet the rest of her family. He admits that he’s nervous, but she assures him that her parents are far from racist. And on the surface her parents, Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford), seem perfectly kind and welcoming to Chris. Her brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), is a jerk, but so it is with brothers.
Still, they’ve got a black housekeeper, Georgina (Betty Gabriel), and a black groundskeeper, Walter (Marcus Henderson). Dean says he knows how it looks, but he brought them on to help care for his ailing parents, and they grew so close to the family that he still keeps them on. Something in that doesn’t quite ring true, but it’s only the beginning of the creepy groundwork that Peele lays down.
A background in comedy translates very well to horror. Both genres rely on nailing a certain rhythm, and the ability to lead an audience’s attention around, guiding their assumptions to just the right point so you can upend them at just the right moment. And Peele pulls this off like he’s been directing horror for years. He builds up ideas subtly, only occasionally nudging them just enough to make sure they stick.
Of course, the other marker of Peele’s comedy work with Keegan-Michael Key has been their biting social commentary, wrapped in the velvet glove of commentary. But he’s no less incisive when using horror tropes to get at similar ideas. In certain ways, this genre works better, like when talking about the sense of dread a black person might feel around overbearing white folks, clueless about their “benevolent” racism. And he finds overtones absent from the Stepford Wives inspiration; Chris fears not only losing his will, but losing his very Blackness from too-close association with too many white people.
This point is heavily underlined by Chris’ contact with his friend, Rod (Lil Rel Howery). Within the genre, he serves as the “outside friend” who can come to the aid of the stranded victim. But he also serves as a second culture for Chris, who code-switches between his white-parents voice and his black-friend voice, with his white-girlfriend voice landing somewhere in between. In fact, one of the creepier notes is the way that Georgina and Walter don’t similarly switch when alone with Chris, and it’s creepier still to see an ultra-white affect from a cameo by Keith Stanfield.
Even this just scratches the surface of Peele’s thematic commentary, while avoiding things that might veer into the territory of spoilers. This is a legitimately great horror movie working through legitimately real fears. The only thing holding it back for me is that while I’m aware of them, they’re not fears I personally live with. But even if it’s not made for me, I can still see the greatness in it.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.