dir: Jordan Peele
This has been a long time coming.
In 1983 (I first watched it in 1984 at age 12, probably way too young) Eddie Murphy was known not as the guy starring in movies as most of the characters wearing fat suits and farting all the time, but as probably the biggest stand up comedian in the world. And, this in itself is pretty amazing, he was 22 at the time when Delirious was recorded.
Some of the material is ageless, some of it has aged horribly (especially to do with LGBTIQ issues and terrible AIDS jokes), but generally it holds up. What is it about African-American comedians and terrible jokes about gay, lesbian and trans people, amiright? Wait, don’t walk away, I’m sorry about the racist generalisations, sorry!
Setting all of that aside, I remember very clearly that towards the end of the concert movie, Murphy points out one of the many differences between “white” people and “black” people, at least as it relates to horror movies. In horror movies, a white family moves into a haunted house ignoring all the obvious signs that something terrible is going to happen, because, I dunno, gentrification or something.
Murphy’s counterpoint was, and the punchline / capper to his whole show, was that a black family that walked into a beautiful house, listed all the great attributes of the place and the neighbourhood, but heard a ghostly voice clearly say “Get Out!” would instantly say “Too bad we can’t stay” and immediately get the fuck out of there.
Thank you and good night! I’m here all week, try the veal etc etc. Look, I can’t argue that it’s still as funny, or that it’s funny out of context, but since it’s stayed with me all these years, it clearly made an impression upon me. The moment I heard there was a film made by African-American comedian and that it was called Get Out, the first thing I thought of was the classic Eddie Murphy joke.
So too, since there was a racial edge to that previous joke, did I assume that it would be a horror flick that had something to say about White America versus Black America, and, good goddamn, was that accurate.
Get Out doesn’t have a set up whereby blacks are forced back into slavery, or are hunted down by the Klan or the Secret Service or anything. It’s at the same time a more insidious and more horrifying / daft proposal. The racism isn’t the worst element, but it’s the enabling element that lets the rest of the story cascade along.
A guy goes to his girlfriend’s parent’s place in order to meet them for the first time. It’s the perfect set up for a Look Who’s Coming to Dinner type of scenario, but the girl reassures her boyfriend that her affluent, professional, liberal parents will love him too. Just like in Look Who’s Coming to Dinner.
He, being Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) thinks this is a disaster in the making. She, being Rose (Allison Williams, playing a slightly less horrible version of her Marnie character on Girls), hasn’t warned her parents that she’s dating an African-American chap. Chris might be expecting some hostility, some tension. This is a nation that elected a white supremacist president just after the first African-American president for revenge, after all.
Rose assures Chris and us that her parents are cool, totally cool with African-Americans and totally not racist. If they could have, they’d have voted for Obama three times, is a common refrain. They’re slightly odd and awkward, but they seem totally fine with Chris, totally fine. Not a problem. If anything, they seem a little too keen.
Their instances of over-familiarity, or of generalising their pre-conceived ideas about African-Americans are played as being benign, as being more insensitive or thoughtless rather than out and out Trump-like open racism. But they smile, and they’re so welcoming, so I’m sure everything will be fine. Missy (Catherine Keener) is a bit concerned with Chris’s smoking, though, because it’s such a disgusting and health damaging addiction. Maybe she can help him out with some of her therapist training? She’s really good at hypnosis, apparently. I wonder whether that will play a part in the movie?
Chris isn’t really reassured by any of this, and nor should he be. He chats about his misgivings with his mate Rod (Lil Rel Howery) on the phone, who almost reverse reassures him, because his outlandish ideas of what these white folk are really up to are so ridiculous that Chris thinks he’s probably overreacting.
Although, after a strange experience that night, he doesn’t seem to want to smoke anymore. At all. That’s a bit weird, isn’t it? I wonder if it’s at all connected with the strange dream he has where he was chatting about his dead mother with Missy, and Missy really zeroed in on the childhood feelings of staggering guilt that Chris seems to carry around with him. The whole while, she seems to be stirring the same cup of tea with a maniacal repetitiveness, as she delves deeper and deeper into Chris’s uniquely somehow African-American and debilitating guilt.
But no, I’m sure it will be fine. The Armitages, Rose’s parents, even employee African-Americans in their home, who wear strangely 50s clothing, speak in weird ways, and seem to be more like robots than anything else. I’m sure that means they have a deep love of all things black. Rose’s father even regales Chris with a tale about his own father losing to Jesse Owens in the preliminary races that meant the famous African-American runner got the chance to humiliate the Fuhrer at the Berlin Olympics.
I mean, the timelines don’t make sense, but surely, SURELY it didn’t mean that the patriarch of this weird family didn’t hold a grudge against African-Americans for like 80 years because he lost a race to a man with a different skin colour and life history to himself? Surely not.
It just so happens that the very next day, there seems to be some kind of family annual get-together that Rose forgot to tell Chris about. There are a lot of old people at this get together. They look at Chris and mention the one or two other black people they know, or about Tiger Woods, but mostly they look at Chris like he’s a prize thoroughbred, and they’re looking at investing in some quality horseflesh.
There is one other young African-American chap there, but his manner is bizarre and his manner of speaking is very strange, for a young man. He sounds like Colonel Sanders, whatever you imagine the good Colonel would sound like in between murdering chickens and covering them with his seven secret herbs and spices, and he’s wearing a straw boater hat, which, now that I think about it, is definitely the weirdest thing in the whole movie. It’s not even as weird as his doting wife who appears to be at least a 100 years older than him.
It’s not a puzzle, what’s going on. It’s not structured as a massive M. Night Shyamalan type twist or anything like that. Something staggeringly bad is going on, but I don’t think there’s any need to try and guess what’s going on before it happens. The crucial thing is that a bunch of white people have been and are doing something staggeringly awful to bunch of African-American people, and, the plan is to do it again to Chris.
And the really galling / comforting / awful thing is; none of it is being done out of obvious, overt malice, or open racial animus. There’s not a character in this flick with a White Power haircut or a dodgy little mustache screaming at the hunted characters telling them that they’re subhuman or that they deserve what’s happening to them.
The “thing” they’re doing, all of them, is out of desire, out of convenience, out of the reality of life for African-Americans in a country which, even now, especially today, has unarmed members of their community being shot with impunity by racist, scared or just thoughtless police who don’t even stand trial as long as they say they were scared when they pulled the trigger.
And yet even without the obvious hatred as motivator, what’s actually going on is beyond monstrous. It’s horrible, which is appropriate for what people shouldn’t forget is still a horror film. It is tempting to think that this would be a horror-comedy, since the director Jordan Peele is best known for his comedic work. This is not a comedy at all. Even if the ‘mechanism’ of what they’re doing down deep in the basement is a bit silly, or perhaps unbelievable, the other elements, the casual racism from people who don’t think they have a racist bone in their bodies, is treated too seriously for it to be easily dismissed.
The most horrific idea in the flick isn’t, to me, the erasure of people’s identity, the stealing of their bodies or their lives: it’s the actions of Missy, which are the primary action, the first technique that allows the rest of the horrible things to happen. Before any of it can proceed, she has to delve into a person’s worst fears or moments in their lives, and use them to trap them there like a fly in amber, in some cases forever, in the “sunken place”. That was probably the most horrific idea for me, in a flick replete with horrible ideas.
Peele takes the story seriously, and slowly, and only occasionally winks at the audience (mostly with any of the stuff Chris’s friend Rod does or says). It builds in enough mysteries as to what’s going on, and enough of Chris’s own trauma such that by the time the ending rocks around, we’re probably in the mood for some serious catharsis. Most of the characters play things fairly ‘straight’, for lack of a better term, although some, like Rose’s dumb hyperactive brother doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the cast, though, honestly, fuck that guy.
It’s odd to say that it’s enjoyable, but it is, because whilst the premise becomes fairly harrowing, and when things get increasingly grim towards the end, we’re pretty keen to see how Chris gets out of his predicament, if at all. Nothing is really certain in this flick, though it usually manages to find reasonable solutions to the myriad obstacles Chris faces. He handles all the aspects of the story pretty well, and doesn’t make too many stupid decisions, of the kinds that are endemic to this genre.
That being said, it wasn’t much of a horror film. I mean the premise is pure horror, the ‘finalish’ solution is pure horror, but it’s not a flick concerned with gore or violence or evoking terror in the audience, though there’s a fair amount of discomfort (before it descends into blood and death and denouement).
One thing stuck out as a bit of a dumb moment, though. There’s a silent auction, where Chris is auctioned off to the highest bidder as in the slave markets of old. The person bidding on him that eventually wins is blind, so I was seriously wondering as to how he knew what to bid and when, considering he was fucking blind as.
But that is of no moment. Get Out is a rollicking, concerning, damning night out at the movies. Be sure to take your racist grandparents along to see it. They’ll love it, guaranteed.
8 times I wondered how high the bidding would go on me if I was on the block – or would I end up having to bid on myself out of 10
“You were one of my favourites” – I bet you say that to all your victims – Get Out