'Get Out' explores horror genre and racial tensions

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African-American Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) must escape from his malicious white captors in “Get Out.” 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Jordan Peele is the last person you’d expect to be a master of horror. Yet, this satirist’s creativity finds a perfect home in “Get Out,” which transforms everyday racial tensions into a harrowing life-or-death battle. This is a risky movie that explores uncomfortable issues and a subversive melding of acting and atmosphere that’s hard to resist. 

The film opens with Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a black man, going to meet the family of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). In spite of Rose’s reassurances, Chris feels on edge about how her parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) will react to their interracial coupling.

But as Rose promised, the Armitages are far from hostile — in fact, they’re eerily eager to display their tolerance. They welcome Chris with open arms, and Rose’s father, Dean, brags about how his father raced Jesse Owens and vows he would’ve voted for Barack Obama a third time. Rose’s odd brother (Caleb Landry Jones) fetishizes the black aesthetic and declares Chris would be a “beast” if he took full advantage of his genetic makeup. Soon, we realize the Armitages may not be cross-burning Klansmen, but their over-compensatory attempts at acceptance do just as much to drive Chris away. To them, he’s still black first, human second. 

With the film’s monster of racism laid bare, all we can do is watch tensions boil. While Peele targets racist liberals who are outwardly pleasant, the Armitages do have stereotypical black servants. The help is polite — perhaps too polite. The maid, Georgina (Betty Gabriel), and the groundskeeper, Walter (Marcus Henderson), creepily eye Chris from afar and seems bent on making him uncomfortable. While polite on the surface, their treatment of Chris suggests they disapprove of his relationship with Rose. Are they jealous of how much the Armitages seem to like him, or is something else amiss? 

The first half of “Get Out” toys with racism and perception — Peele constantly calls upon us to wonder if comments about things such as black culture and Tiger Woods are innocuous and well-meaning, or toxic and misguided. While Chris’ interactions with white people are rife with humor, racial hostility tinges every moment, and while Chris can’t tell if he’s imagining things, audiences know he isn’t. The film’s dread arises from whether he can comprehend the danger of his predicament in time.

Only Chris’ best friend, loud-mouthed TSA agent Rod (Lil Rel Howery), seems to know exactly what’s going on. He’s one of the film’s best characters, a brazen, comic figure who gives us nice breathers from the Armitages’ frightening abode. As an anchor to the outside world, he keeps the film from being too dark.

The film does get considerably darker though, as the Armitages reveal their true nature. The first indication of their intentions takes place when Rose’s mother, Missy, hypnotizes Chris. Using only a tea cup, she pierces into Chris’s mind and sets off a deeply unnerving phenomenon in which he loses control of his body. Peele fashions some incredible imagery during this sequence as well, and he establishes a
powerful metaphor about black subjugation. The Armitages, like the American elite, grant freedom — and they have the power to steal it.

When the Armitages force Chris to fight for his life in the rousing climax, “Get Out” manages to avoid the ethical questionable nature involved in Nat Turner’s massacre of whites in “Birth of a Nation.” This is due to the fact that the Armitages are irredeemable, and Peele stages the last battle as a primal battle for survival between good and evil. There’s not much blood, but it is oh-so satisfying to finally see Chris break free from his captors and rain vengeance upon them.