Perhaps part of the reason writer and director Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” was the biggest movie ticket-seller this last week is its trailer. The in-theater ad made the film look like a sort of “Stepford Wives” for servants, and all the servants were African- American.
Race is a potent issue. Viewers could think the movie was about the continuing enslavement of one race by another. If this were true, the movie would have been edgy stuff. Really edgy.
But Peele, who we know as an actor (“Keanu”) and performer, really isn’t making a statement like that. Forget the preview. “Get Out” is really just a horror movie. It is race conscious, but it isn’t racist.
If the film’s maker had been a little more aware of how what he was doing would be interpreted, maybe he could have avoided a problem he gets into here, early on. It is a sort of carefully defended “received truth” that members of some racial minorities do not get all the advantages society offers Caucasians.
But Peele’s screenplay essentially wipes its feet on that idea. Everybody wants to be Black, at least right now. That’s what “Get Out” says. And the proof it offers is that passably wealthy Whites are anxious to become Black. That’s where the “Stepford” business comes in.
The story begins with a young Black man—Chris, played by always-mugging Englishman Daniel Kaluuya. He has a White girlfriend, Rose, played by Allison Williams. Not much surprise there. It may be that TV commercials featuring single- race couples are less common these days than are ones where one party belongs to one race and one to another.
But Chris’s friend, Transportation Safety Administration screener Rod (Lil-Rel Howery) keeps calling his pal to warn him about going deep into the country to visit a White girl’s family. And from the start, the whole lake-side scene seems creepy.
Rose’s neuro-surgeon father slips into urban slang when talking to his guest. Somebody keeps taking Chris’s phone off the charging line. The cook and gardener, both of them Black, behave like send-ups of older Whites. The only African-American at the big party is apparently a boy-toy for an older Caucasian woman. And he looks familiar.
Chris, a photographer by trade, clicks a pic of the familiar guy in the un-hippest clothes and sends it to Rod, who immediately identifies him—this is a guy who disappeared months ago. But by the time Chris gets this message, he’s already been spooked. Rose’s shrink ma (Catherine Keener) has hypnotized him and seems to be able to put him back into a trance whenever she wants just by rattling a tea spoon against a tea cup.
Some things happen that won’t make any sense when we have the full set of circumstances. For example, the gardener is out running in the night and makes straight for Chris, sheering off at the last moment. Why?
But some spooky things we see during the movie’s middle stretch do pay off later. While Rose distracts Chris from events at the party, the company seems to hold a silent auction during which Chris is sold to the highest bidder, a gallery owner who is going blind. He is played by Stephen Root, who you may remember from “Office Space” and “DodgeBall.”
Then things get a little grizzly. There is some suspense. And the ending is partly earned by the central character and partly delivered by a minor character that I’m going to guess will be most people’s favorite in the film.
In sum, “Get Out” is like a lot of good horror movies. It is about attractive young people. It violates at least a couple of assumptions most of us share—that hypnotism has limited power, for example. It has a little comedy in it, and a little bit of romance, sort of. And it ends in a way that might allow a sequel.
It also has some inexplicable stuff in it. Why does the Black party guest refuse to bump fists and why do all the lake-area African-Americans come apart emotionally when photographed? Why do the conspirators need to use hypnotism in their scheme?
Ah well. We can’t explain away horror movie details any more than we can shake off our fascination with race.