Review: “Get Out”

Posted by Michael Parsons on March 7, 2017 in / 1 Comment


To paraphrase critic Armond White, whose career is based on being a contrarian : “Get Out” is an attenuated comedy sketch that is tailored to please the liberal status quo”. Really? If that’s what you’ve taken away from this movie—hardly a comedy, by the way, though not without its comic relief—then I might say your cynicism has eclipsed your capacity to recognize when a film’s plotting is ultimately a means of subverting simple expectations and pre-conceived notions in order to make a much more concise statement.

I know White just wants the attention (he spitefully spoils it in the first paragraph of his review, by the way), but I bring up his 100% RT-busting critique because it describes exactly how not to take in this movie. Yes, the case of racial tension is in the forefront: a black guy in a “Meet The Parents” scenario with his white girlfriend and even whiter  family in an idyllic country setting. A reversal of the norm in the horror genre. A vision of the suburbs as a terrifying place when get_out_ver2perspective is re-calibrated. But it goes so far beyond that.  Racism takes a different, more horrifying  shape here.

If writer director Jordan Peele (half of the Key & Peele comedy duo) wanted to take the cheap and easy route  to simply appease people, believe me, he had every opportunity to do so. But this intense, clever thriller doesn’t go that way. To be fair, I would also criticize Andre Seewood for his diatribe about hyper-tokenism in “Star Wars VII”, diminishing and trivializing the black protagonist’s significant and consequential role by doing so. And I think that simplifying “Get Out” as a partisan ploy to vilify white people is damaging to the intelligence and originality  of a film that will appeal to a very broad demographic. It reminds me of that “Seinfeld” episode, in which Jerry’s dentist makes a few terrible anti-semitic jokes. And this offends you as  a Jew? he’s asked. No, it offends me as a comedian!

“Get Out” stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, an up-and-coming photographer with a rare eye. He and his girlfriend Rose (played by Allison Williams) are headed to her folks’ estate, and he’s nervous because she hasn’t told them that he’s black. She insists they’re not racist. At first, that seems to be true, but mom and dad Armitage (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener) quickly start to overcompensate.  Nerves, maybe. Whitford’s  Dean mentions that his deceased father almost got over losing to Jesse Owens in the Berlin Olympics, then openly cops to the cliché of having black employees—groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), who seem like they were teleported from the 1800’s. They used to take care of Dean’s parents before they passed, says Dean, and he just couldn’t stand to let them go. Then there’s the Obama discussion that Rose warned Chris would inevitably occur.

And Mrs. Armitage is a psychiatrist with a propensity for hypnotizing people, and offers (i.e. manipulates) to cure Chris of his smoking habit. Meanwhile, Chris’s buddy Rod (Lil Rel Howery) is convinced the white folks are running some sort of kinky sex slave operation when he believes his friend has gone missing (hilarious police station scene with Erika Alexander).

There’s a party. And then they show up in droves, aging caucasian country-clubbers who have all sorts of questions for Chris—some less appropriate than others—a microcosm of extreme, old school right-wing mentality. The one black guy who shows up (Lakeith Stanfield) is dressed for the Kentucky Derby in the 1940’s.

2477_D014_00139R.jpg_cmykEverything is odd. Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) is a drunk with an out-of-place Brooklyn accent who’s obsessed with MMA and almost puts Chris in a headlock at dinner after commenting about his genetic makeup. I’ll go no further into the plot, so just chew on that information for a while.

Jordan Peele’s script is without an ounce of fat. After a second viewing, I picked up on several things that seemed all the more ingenious because the first time around, they appeared inconsequential (particularly after Rose and Chris hit a deer on their way to the Armitage compound).  The jump scares are rarely without merit, but the atmosphere is what really bites.  Daniel Kaluuya’s performance is nearly perfect: his character is uncomfortable and apprehensive all the way, and in addition to his inherent skepticism, he’s forced to contend with some long suppressed demons involving his own family. Brilliant stuff abounds. Peele wrangles us in by addressing the elephant in the room quickly,  so immediately we’re wondering where it’s going to go for the next 90 minutes.  Probably not where you think. While you’re wondering, Michael Abels’ score will make your hair stand on end.

Area Theaters

—M. Parsons 2017

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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