1 hour, 44 minutes
The horror movie genre is interesting because it can vary so wildly in levels of intensity. I generally feel like I enjoy scary movies, but not horror – though many of my favorite movies technically fall into the latter designation.
Typically, we consider horror films by the amount of gore they offer. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is horror. “Saw” and the latest iteration of that disturbing series, “Jigsaw” are definitely horror.
But this week’s movie, “Get Out,” a February release that I’m just getting around to seeing, is also horror, and, while it does have some blood, it’s definitely not in the same category as the movies I previously mentioned.
Because I was curious about this dichotomy, I looked it up. “Horror” comes from Latin and literally means to tremble or shudder in fear. Nothing about gore or evisceration. The best scary movies do exactly what the word “horror” suggests. One of the best scary movies I’ve ever seen, “The Others,” is about a creeping dread, not a missing head. But if you called it a horror movie, the fan boys would raise a fit. “Where’re the blood and guts?”
I say we take back the word “horror.” A movie doesn’t have to make you sick to your stomach or question the existence of a benevolent force in the universe in order to be scary. Sometimes it’s enough for a movie to make you tremble or shudder with fear. That’s where you’ll find Jordan Peele’s brilliant race horror tale, “Get Out.”
The story opens with our hero, Chris Washington, played by Daniel Kaluuya, packing for a weekend trip home to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. His white girlfriend, and it turns out she hasn’t told them that her boyfriend is black. This is a perfect set-up because it combines recognizable stress – who hasn’t had to deal with the awkwardness of meeting your significant others’ family — with the added layer of racial stress – how will her parents react? Will they overreact? Or will they act like nothing is happening? Which is worse?
Onto this, you add the stress that the audience feels simply because we are watching a horror movie and we expect something bad to happen. This film excels in finding the creepiness and discomfort in everyday situations. On the way to the meeting, Chris and his girlfriend Rose hit a deer. Unfortunate and stressful, but made sinister by all the added layers. When the couple arrive at her parents’ beautiful house in the country, Chris encounters a pair of black servants. But all attempts to chat them up are met with creepy smiles and blank stares.
Rose’s parents are nice – but too nice? This movie takes full advantage of the fact that you know you’re watching a scary movie, ramping up the tension on the most banal encounters through effective music and brilliant direction. I won’t venture into a discussion of where the movie goes from here, suffice it to say that the third act reveal is both silly and brilliant at the same time.
Director Jordan Peele, better known as half of the comedy duo Key and Peele, does a brilliant job with this first major feature. “Get Out” is such a confident film, not afraid to tackle difficult subjects in clever ways that sneak up on you. Though the film has amusing moments, Peele never defers his comedy background in order solve a story-telling problem.
There is comic relief, as there must be in a movie like this, provided by Lilrel Howery as Chris’ TSA agent friend and confident. Howery steals every scene he’s in, but in no way overwhelms the film. This film is really Daniel Kaluuya’s show and he completely owns it. Many of the shots are close-ups of his face, giving the actor nowhere to hide. I was completely sold by this performance.
Also bringing their A-games are Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener as the parents, and “Girls’” Allison Williams, as Rose. A special shout-out needs to go to Betty Gabriel who gives an extremely tense performance as Georgina, Rose’s family’s maid.
“Get Out” was a surprise hit when it came out in February, and I’m hoping it’s getting a bit of a resurgence thanks to Halloween. If the Academy doesn’t suffer from short-term memory loss, we’ll be seeing nominations for actor and director, if not writer and picture as well. This is a unique film in that it checks a bunch of different boxes and it does so in a really clever manner.
“Get Out” is rated R for language and violence.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.