The Horror Honeys: Stay Woke: Escaping a Suburban Nightmare in Get Out (2017)

Stay Woke: Escaping a Suburban Nightmare in Get Out (2017)

A New Release Review with Sci-Fi Honey Katie

Get Out (2017)

We’re currently in the middle of these first dreary winter months of the year, known as that time when film studios roll out their bottom-of-the-barrel awards-season rejects, and the rule of thumb dictates that horror films especially should be avoided. It’s easy to be lauded as “the best film of the year,” when the year has only consisted thus far of a couple of months and the offerings at the local cineplex generally range from painfully mediocre to downright embarrassing. Enter writer/director/actor/comedian Jordan Peele’s provocative game-changer Get Out; a film that has already shaken up the usual doldrums of the post-awards-season cinematic landscape and turned the modern horror world upside down. It’s a film that could carry the “best film of the year” torch clear through December 31st, and even garner some awards from open-minded critics and voters if its opening weekend acclaim is anything to go by. But what exactly is so revolutionary about Peele’s rule-breaking, genre-bending, socially-relevant masterpiece?

They seem like such a cute couple! Until...
Let’s begin with the film’s main character, Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya of the excellent Black Mirror episode “Fifteen Million Merits.” Chris is a handsome, intelligent, well-spoken African American photographer who happens to be dating a Caucasian woman, Rose (Allison Williams of HBO’s Girls). Chris is meeting Rose’s parents for the first time this weekend, and he’s reasonably concerned about whether the interracial nature of their relationship will be an issue. Rose insists that her family are not racists, and everything goes off without a hitch at first; dad Dean (Bradley Whitford) manages to carry on conversations with only a few awkward references to the Obama administration, while hypnotherapist mom Missy (Catherine Keener) seems more concerned about Chris’s smoking habit than the color of his skin. There’s also the odd brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones, brooding with shades of Funny Games’ Michael Pitt) and two African-American ‘servants:’ groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel). The latter are the most off-putting element of the happy Armitage family facade, though Dean immediately addresses that he knows how it must appear to Chris and that not all is what it seems. This ominous statement is something that Chris will learn all too well before his visit to the Armitage estate is through.

Mom and Dad: nothing sinister about these two, right?
As Chris prepares for his trip he’s blasting Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” a song that repeats the admonition to “stay woke,” mere hours before he’s lulled into a hypnotic trance by Missy. Subtle clues like this let the audience know from the very beginning something is amiss, and writer/director Jordan Peele proves in his debut outing as a filmmaker that he has a remarkable skill for bringing all the film’s layered subtext to the fore. Though we’re 50 years removed from the social climate depicted in Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), a film that also depicts what happens when a white woman brings her black boyfriend home to meet her family, race relations in modern-day America at times feels no less strained or problematic than it did during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. This self-conscious disparity is echoed in various ways throughout Get Out, ranging from the overt in a loaded exchange between Chris and a white policeman, to the more suggestive ways that Chris is asked about his physical and sexual prowess by white visitors to the Armitage home. Dean flaunts the ethnic trophies he’s collected from experiencing various countries around the world; indeed, many of the white characters in the movie seem to pick and choose the elements of black culture they wish to appropriate.

Things are not normal here.
In the midst of serious social commentary, however, is a film that’s so much more than just a treatise on racial tension in present-day America. Get Out is also a horror film in the grandest tradition of supernatural/science-fiction paranoid thrillers, as well as a comedy that’s as subversive as The Cabin in the Woods (2012) without stooping to outright genre self-parody. As Chris’s friend Rod, comedian Lil Rel Howery provides the most patently laugh-out-loud moments; but Peele also imbues the exploration of racial unrest with an underlying humor. In one such scene, Chris’s face fills with dread when he attempts to initiate a fistbump with a young black man at the Armitage household and instead is met with a handshake. His distrust of all black characters at the Armitage estate and their “white” mannerisms, put-upon affect, and plasticine smiles, is both hilarious and unnerving. Are they robots? Aliens? The sacrifice to some satanic cult? The delusions of a racially-paranoid man? Or just a series of elaborate and silly misunderstandings? To shed any light on this would spoil the fun of making it to the end of Get Out; rest assured that it’s more delightfully insane than you could ever imagine.

That face when you finally realize what is going on.
Naysayers and jaded filmgoers alike will tell you that if you’ve seen one horror movie, you’ve seen them all: the black character, if the film is diverse enough to even include one, will always die first, and the survivor is always a virtuous (and white) Final Girl. Get Out refuses to play by those rules, and in doing so easily becomes one of the most inimitable and important genre films of the last five years. Jordan Peele’s exploration of “urban versus suburban” horror, steeped in brazenly progressive humor, is a monumental debut for a well-regarded comedian to take a fresh turn behind the horror lens. If one film lures you to the cinema this February, let it be Get Out; kick back with a cup of tea and sink into the floor, because you’re about to experience a kind of film that you’ve never seen before.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four and-a-half cups of hypnotic tea out of five

Get Out is in theaters now!