Since its February 24 release in the United States, “Get Out,” the controversial horror film that takes a satirical look at race relations, has racked up $87.4 million at the box office on a mere $4.5 million budget. This kind of success could lead to the production of more films that analyze race seriously using satire.
In the movie, a young photographer named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) travels to upstate New York with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to stay with her easygoing parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford), and to meet their upper middle-class friends.
Within this mostly white environment, Chris endures a series of uncomfortable interactions from whites who are trying to connect with him on an intimate level but come across as condescending (“I would have voted for Obama a third time if I could!” or “What is your take on the black experience in the new millennium?”). There are also blacks who act suspiciously servile and meek.
As the film progresses, the encounters become more uncomfortable until Chris decides that something is seriously wrong and wants to leave the house before the visit has officially ended. From that point, the film takes an inventive turn at psychological horror.
The scenes of Chris at the home of his girlfriend’s parents are intercut with moments of humor in the form of Chris’ TSA friend Rod (played with high-energy by Chicago comedian Milton “Lil Rel” Howery). Rod worries for Chris’s safety throughout the trip to Rose’s parents’ estate, crediting his work for the TSA with his sixth sense about such matters.
I believe part of the appeal of “Get Out” for many viewers is the way it uses the trappings of a typical horror movie to tell a story that is very familiar to many African-Americans — the ubiquitous conversation with white people who believe themselves to be enlightened about racial matters, but still find ways to courtesy to racial stereotypes.
Chris’s worries about being around “too many white people” is another ubiquitous concern shared by many blacks, especially those who have climbed up to elite status. This deeply rooted apprehension is rarely explored in mainstream films.
Part of the controversy surrounding the film centers on the depiction of the white characters. Some critics of the film argue that its portrayal of whites as clueless, closet racists at best and potential cult participants at worst reeks of reverse racism.
My response to this is: That’s the nature of satire. How can a filmmaker shine a light on an important subject without depicting it in its most extreme form?
First-time writer-director Jordan Peele, of the acclaimed comedy duo “Key & Peele” shows a keen eye for horror in the film. There is a scene where Chris is hypnotized by Rose’s psychologist mother to “cure” him of his smoking habit.
The scene marvelously mixes slow foreboding with a surprisingly assured visual flare. The moment when Chris finds himself descended into the “sunken place” of his own subconscious is a wonderfully effective visual effect. It gives the film an otherworldly creepiness that belies the film’s minuscule budget.
The film is not without its flaws. Howery’s shtick goes on a bit too long and is not always as funny as it strives to be. Other issues include the film’s overly happy ending, which has all the makings of the last-second studio change that it was (the original ending would have been much darker). There’s also that unfortunate moment where a major revelation is made when a character finds photos in a closet at a suspiciously convenient time.
Nevertheless, “Get Out” is a solid effort and one of the first horror films in recent memory to look at race relations as they stand in post-Obama America. This movie should spark discussion for months to come.