In a recent interview about his new film, Get Out, writer/director Jordan Peele remarked that, “To find the scariest monster we need look no further than the human demon … Society is capable of some beautiful things, but when we get together we’re also capable of the darkest atrocities.” This sort of thinking dominates much of Peele’s debut film, which premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival to rapturous applause. Critics and cinephiles alike have praised the film, for the most part, for its melding of genres, but, overall, it fails to grip audiences. Peele has made a rare film that fuses gruesome grindhouse with biting social commentary, but mediocrely plays out like a lobotomized iteration of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967).
Get Out centers on Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams), a happy couple preparing to spend the weekend at Rose’s parents home in the country. While packing his overnight duffle, Chris innocently asks Rose if her parents know that he’s black. She admits that Chris’ race was never mentioned, but reassuringly admits to him that her dad “would vote for Obama for a third term if he could.” The couple soon begin their trek into the suburbs, as the comforting skyscrapers are quickly replaced by ominous trees and brush—Rose’s parents’ home, of course, is totally and completely secluded in the depths of these woods. Infiltrating the heart of darkness, Chris and Rose enter Missy and Dean’s (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) illustrious home and begin engaging in some insufferable small-talk—conversations play out as though Rose’s parents have never met a black person before. Dean and Missy’s questionable behavior, along with some suspicious-looking house workers, makes Chris question the true nature and intent of Rose’s family.
Get Out works well, primarily, because of what it has to say about race in contemporary America. This film wisely avoids conventionalities by deferring from condemning people from the former Confederate states as racists. Rather, Peele levies criticism on Rose’s parents, representing the white-liberal elite, who you could imagine knocking back Arnold Palmers each weekend at the country club. When Rose and Chris visit for the weekend, Missy and Dean host the whitest party possible for their friends. At the party, in a desperate attempt to converse with Chris (one of two black people at the party), houseguests inadvertently insult him—the topic of conversation always seems to come back to Chris’ race.
The film, however, is rather imperfect—one of its main flaws being its lack of subtlety. The script, written by Peele, could have afforded a few more rewrites, as some of the lines and jokes were often far too on-the-nose. Peele, for instance, foreshadows Dean’s malintent when giving Chris a tour of the house, remarking that his home has a serious “black mold” problem. Peele also, in attempt to foreshadow the inevitable violent end of this film, has Chris and Rose hit an innocent deer while driving to her parent’s house. After pulling over, Chris gets out of the car and wanders down the road to see the ill-fated deer. Chris stares into the suffering deer’s sad eyes—Chris will obviously find himself identifying with the deer as the film progresses. This type of explicit, contrived foreshadowing left viewers craving more subtlety and nuance from a film with such a unique premise.
In addition, Get Out is not nearly scary enough. The film, remarkably, is much more frightening before the violence even breaks out—one of the scariest scenes being a dinner confrontation between Chris and Rose’s scraggly, prep-school-dropout brother (Caleb Landry Jones). Forbidding looks and stares given by Dean and Missy are infinitely scarier than the monstrous violence that breaks out in the third act. In fact, the third act largely feels the most tiresome—all the actors are giving deliciously over the top performances, but the violence itself does not do the rest of the film justice. The violence begins far too late in the film, and it ends too soon to be meaningful—making it necessarily unnecessary.
In many ways, the ideas about race presented in Get Out are more interesting than the film itself. Peele suggests in his film that behind a veneer of acceptance lives a cruel, primitive hatred that has the capacity to inflict great harm. This message, however relevant, was often obscured by a lack of subtlety and misdirection.