Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele, is an instant classic, an absolutely magnificent film. It is a brilliant exegesis on the phenomenon of liberal racism, of the strikingly perverse appeal that black bodies have always had to white people.
The film opens up on a situation ordinary in its horror, a black man walking alone in an affluent white suburb. The scene escalates: he is stalked, attacked, and dragged away—his destination the trunk of a flashy white sports car—his limp body almost cartoonish in the way it bends and buckles to the whims of the kidnapper. It is a self-contained moment of horror, and also a preview of the horror to come. The body—just a few seconds earlier, a walking, talking human being, sparkling with personality, cracking jokes to thin air—is turned to object, to a lifeless machine, is stripped down to limp muscle and sinew, ripe for repurposing according to someone else’s interests.
Get Out is the story of what happened when Chris Washington, sensitively portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya (pictured), tries to meet his white girlfriend’s parents. What promises to be an informative, slightly awkward, but essentially wholesome pilgrimage to meet his new in-laws turns into something else entirely, as the Armitages’ reveal themselves, over the course of the film, to have much more sinister interest in Chris than previously thought.
The Armitages, played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, seem like a nice, upper-class white couple, at first. They’re a little hokey, on the subject of Chris’s blackness. They’re a little overbearing; racist, but in that nice way that you don’t really know how to get mad at, without creating a great big potential stink over nothing. But things, as they often do, in horror flicks, get worse. Chris grows more and more uncomfortable as the micro-aggressions pile up, and as he begins to perceive the threat of the very real violence that lurks behind each and every movement made by the Armitages.
Chris is anything but an unwitting victim. He is, like most victims in a horror movie, acutely aware that something—maybe everything—isn’t right. But then again, the enemy in most horror movies is a monster, some sinister supernatural force, not, you know, racism. Chris’s fear—again, he’s the only black person in a rich white person’s house, being subjected to racist incident after racist incident—is deeply understandable, and deeply realistic. The explosion of violence that the film crescendos to is, therefore, predictable, according to the conventions of the genre, and, importantly, according to the internal logic of racism.
Because behind every shadow lies a material object, after all. Behind every tiny hint of prejudice lies the threat of real and sustained and tangible violence. A woman guest at the Armitage’s deeply creepy garden party inappropriate touches Chris, wonders out loud if “what they say is true?” To an outsider, it just seems like a gauche comment; to a black person, a black person who has been subjected to this kind of treatment from the moment they begin interacting with white people, it is a portent of sexual violence.
In fact, lust for black bodies runs deep through this film. There is something carnal about the way Dean Armitage (Whitford) insists to Chris that he loves to collect a little bit of something from every people he visits. There is something assumingly possessive about the way the garden party guests insist Chris perform on the spot, about the way they demand he play the role of token, they way they want him to jump when they say to. And of course, in the film’s finale, we understand the extent to which the white folks in this movie feel entitled to black bodies.
Rose (Allison Williams), Chris’s girlfriend, does her best to be an ally to Chris as he grows more and more uncomfortable at her family’s house, though she doesn’t quite understand how to be. And in not understanding, despite her frequent assertions to the contrary, Rose displays a certain form of “woke” liberal racism—the racism of a Lena Dunham who insists she’s down with the struggle, but the Brooklyn that exists in her imagination is devoid of people of color. As the limits of Rose’s partnership are revealed, we understand that Rose’s racism is the worst racism of them all—that those who are loudest about their ally-ship are sometimes the most suspect, in the end.
Those who are expecting Get Out to display its brilliance in a flash of genre-bending originality are going to be disappointed. Yes, this is a film about racism, but don’t expect Crash—there’s nothing that isn’t horror about this movie. While the subject matter will attract non-horror fans, they should expect a thoroughly conventional genre film—and a scary one, at that. And though Get Out doesn’t break the rules, it doesn’t matter. It’s in its faithful adherence to form that this film truly shines.