Stay Woke | Get Out (2017) Review

“The mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

You might not have expected Jordan Peele (of Key and Peele fame) to have made his directorial debut with a trippy, psychological, horror film… but he did. You may also not have expected a horror film with a mid-March release to be any good… but it is. Get Out (2017) stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a black photographer, who is anxious to meet the parents of his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams) and with good reason. While Rose’s parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) are harmless enough, there is something suspicious about the groundskeepers, and Chris suspects it has something to do with the recent disappearances of black people in the area.

This film is entirely driven by racial tensions and anxieties. Not just surrounding blatant aggression from bigots, but unintentional (perhaps even ‘well-meaning’) racism. Near the start of the film, Chris is targeted by police, while Allison is driving him to her parents’ house. This is then contrasted with how Dean goes out of his way to seem not racist, even mentioning how he wished he could vote for Obama a third time. Things only continue to get more sinister from there as the mysteries of the family unfold. Despite being accused of ‘gas lighting’ the issue of race in America, Jordan Peele actually presents racism in a very compassionate and nuanced way. He encapsulates the anxiety that African Americans feel, even from something as minor as meeting your white girlfriend’s parents. There are laughs too, as you would expect from Jordan Peele. Chris’ friend, Rod, who works for the TSA provides some of the more bombastic jokes, alongside the uncomfortable chuckles prompted by the way the film depicts casual racism.

Most of the film is competently shot, but there are some stand-out moments which hint at Peele’s directorial capability as more than just competent. Scenes in “the sunken place” are trippy and terrifying. It makes me wish there were more moments in the film, which trace that aesthetic, but perhaps that is best saved for a future film. The narrative structure is much more sophisticated than the average horror, with unexpected twists, despite the pacing being relatively similar. It makes for an entertaining flick for wider audiences but with a deeper subtext which genre horror films often lack. The inclusion of Childish Gambino’s ‘Redbone’ in the soundtrack was perfect, as the 80s jazz sound lulls the viewer into a false sense of security, despite the repeated chanting of, “Stay woke!” , as Chris enters an environment where he must keep his wits about him.

Something that always bugs me in a typical genre horror is how characters will always make dumb decisions, which lead to their deaths. Chris may not be a brain surgeon, but being a photographer, he is observant. Daniel Kaluuya not only portrays this scepticism well, but also lights up the screen with his overt charm, and seems to carry the tragedy of his character in his eyes, portraying a well-rounded believable character. The rest of the cast, in particular Bradley Whitford, did a great job of teetering between charming and sinister, which greatly added to the ambiguity of the plot. I did think Caleb Landry Jones went a bit too far with his portrayal of the emotionally abrasive brother, but it was distractingly bad, and provided some variation in characters.

Get Out is already one of my favourite films of the year. Much like The Babadook, It Follows and The Witch, this was a surprisingly good horror film this early in the year, following some of the lower quality horrors which come out in January. Having enjoyed Key and Peele, and Keanu, I look forward to seeing how Jordan Peele can continue to surprise me.