Jordan Peele’s horror-thriller “Get Out” is a modern-day “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” if Sidney Poitier’s hosts were cannibals. Actually, it’s “The Dutchman,” that incendiary gem by Amiri Baraka, served with heaping sides of chills and comedy that will have you screaming “Get out” long before Lakeith Stanfield’s breakdown at the whitest party of the century.
The premise starts out innocently enough: Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, is a talented photographer going away for the weekend to meet girlfriend Rose’s family. Rose, a progressive white girl, warns Chris that her dad will mention voting twice for Obama and challenges a police officer who makes unfair requests of him on their drive out to the exclusive suburb where her parents live. But there are several cracks in her carefully constructed image.
Writer Jordan Peele of Key and Peele fame challenges the viewer to examine beliefs dear to America’s collective racial subconscious — the presumed innocence of white women, particularly as racial allies, despite a historical record that’s spotty at best (see lynchings, Trump election); and the power that presumption grants, the idea that there’s no debt owed by beneficiaries of our racist past; the fetishization of black bodies and culture amid the devaluation of black lives.
These themes play out, not just among the white characters, but within the black characters as well. Over and over, protagonist Chris denies the evidence of his own eyes and the warnings of his best friend in order to maintain a façade of normalcy in an increasingly abnormal situation.
His chubby, wise-cracking best friend tries to get help, but no one believes him, a common enough trope in horror movies, but this time overlaid with the poignancy of race. The parallel belief to white women’s helplessness is the falsehood of black fragility, the idea that we’re just being sensitive or paranoid when our Spidey senses, honed by generations of surviving discrimination, warn us that a situation is off and likely racially motivated.
Like Chris, many of us gaslight ourselves in efforts to make it through the day: If we simply smile enough, are agreeable enough, subdued and submissive enough, we can carve out just enough space to survive comfortably. But our survival, Peele seems to be saying, is not the point of this exercise.
“Get Out” is gorgeously shot in a moody palate that sharpens the contrast of Chris’s dark skin to his pale surroundings. The supporting cast, particularly Betty Gabriel as maid Georgina, do an excellent job of telegraphing lives that embody these opposing concepts. And the final, climactic scenes are the racial catharsis that “Django Unchained” was too Tarantino to deliver.
Like “The Dutchman” before it, “Get Out” is a modern-day classic that peels back the covers of America’s racial amnesia to examine what we really think about sex, class, race and power. But unlike its predecessor, “Get Out” will make you laugh while doing so. Modern classic, 5 stars.