Last Friday I had the pleasure of watching Get Out, the critically acclaimed film by Jordan Peele, of Key and Peele fame. One of many critically acclaimed black themed films of recent times it has managed to gross more than $100 million on its tiny $5 million in the US alone.
The film stars Daniel Kaluuya, the British actor (Sorry Uncle Samuel) going to meet his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time. What follows, is a psychological horror fest of prolonged suspense and an interesting analysis of the racial tensions so prevalent in the USA and other countries.
What I particularly enjoyed was the constant microscopic analysis of what racism has become in the modern world which are exhibited more so by the wealthy liberals. Many characters within the film played on the same “I’m not racist because” trope which many black people have experienced and ultimately has become synonymous with the covert racism that is embedded in society and has proved so difficult to highlight and ultimately eradicate.
The decision to dress this topic as a horror film was an inspired one by Peele, which allowed him to push the themes and concept to its extremes, which ultimately boiled down to the point of “white folk are trying to kill black folk”. As ridiculous as this may sound on paper, racism at its very core is all about devaluing people, which by default, could result in a lack of quality of life or death.
But substance without style ultimately becomes more of a lecture and this film was as far from a lecture as possible. Using constantly disorientating camera angles (a clutch of Dutch angles and close-ups) the film managed to build up the suspense for a range of reveals which either caused you to jump or wonder what the hell was going on. The usual jumpy horror clichéwhere things pop up out of nowhere with hard chords shattering the silence is replaced by a slow build up of questions that ultimately made the entire audience buy into the theme, understand and identify with Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya).
The comedic undertones made the film more digestible breaking up the serious thematic concept and the suspenseful scares, which had people shouting, “run and don’t go there” were often followed by uneasy sniggers and loud laughs. The film exhibited patience rarely seen in modern horror films and reminded me of the sixth sense in the way it trusted the story to ultimately build up to its final chapter, which ramped up the action and ultimately gave us the answer to the many questions given to us over the course of the film. The numerous characters and references that seemed random were ultimately tied up neatly which for a first-time filmmaker showed mastery and narrative control which made the movie all the more satisfying. The various metaphors sprinkled throughout the film made every frame more important (I will never look at a china mug the same way).
The film had 2 default cinematographic tones. In one it drew from the classic American films with their long scenery shots and steady frames causing the audience to feel very settled and trusting of everything in front of them. The initial moments of the film felt “normal” which not only set up the horror to follow but also the fact that this film reflected normal life, in its initial sequences anyway.
In the more suspenseful / horror – esque parts the film became more disorientating with low angle frames/ close ups and frames which were held in place long enough for the audience to have a chance to look around and realise something wasn’t quite right. As the audience we became part detective, part look out as things developed off-screen and would break into the frame, which represented Chris’ view and his understanding of the situation.
Despite the recent flack against the likes of Kaluuya, Oyelowo and whatever other actors Samuel L Jackson was taking aim at, I feel like Kaluuya did a great job in this film. The key to cutting through all the layers of the film for me was to make it relatable since it dealt with concepts which Black people were experienced on a day-to-day basis. Which made the “every (black) man” character that Kaluuya played particularly dynamic. Chris Washington was a man with nothing especially wrong or right with him; just someone who simply got used to what the world threw at him whether he liked it or not. He still did it to keep the people around him comfortable.
A subtle build up and a stark avoidance of victim syndrome meant the ending communicated was a victory for the character in the film but more a victory for the general public over the evil family and what they represented. Particular praise needs to be given to Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener who played the Armitage family members who managed to arrest the film from the descent into self-parody as the explanation came to light. The mother’s gaze had a consistent maternal quality that meant we never doubted her intentions which ultimately turned out benevolent and Bradley Whitford was perfectly cast as Dean who had his family’s best intentions at heart, which of course meant a lot more as the film progressed. The only character that left me wanting a bit more was Alison Williams as Rose who for the entire film felt almost stand offish but in some ways that could have been intentional with the aim to suggest that such relationships between black men and white women may always be a tad uneasy.
All in all, I give this film a 9.2. I think my bias definitely influences this rating as I have never really liked horror films but the layering, narrative confidence and masterful directing have swayed me. The suspenseful build-up and satisfactory ending meant I walked away feeling victorious but also self-reflective and vindicated that my experience was shared by people and could make excellent viewing.
By Nelson Adeosun