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Review: Does White Guilt Make Us Reluctant to Criticize Get Out?

Get Out’s big twist will not be spoiled in this review.

Jordan Peele’s insta-classic new horror movie Get Out is difficult to discuss without veering too far into spoiler territory. As such, here’s the spoiler-lite logline Peele, who wrote and directed the movie, recently offered up on Variety’s Playback podcast:

It’s the horror version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. That’s a simple way of looking at it. It is about an interracial couple that goes to meet the white girlfriend’s parents at their stately manor in upper New York, and it explores this sort of feeling of alienation that Chris, the lead, feels as being “the other.” As the movie goes on, it inches towards this inevitable finale that is darker than anyone could have predicted.

The bulk of the horror-related content, which is indeed darker than you’d expect, doesn’t actually happen until the final 20 minutes, yet we are put ill at ease from the get go. This is thanks to an opening scene which sees a young black man abducted from the sidewalk of an upper crust white neighborhood and thrown into a car while the old ‘30s ditty “Run, Rabbit, Run” plays in the background.

As such, when we meet our main characters, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya)and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), in their impressively well-furnished mid-town Manhattan apartment we know it’s a big deal when Rose admits she hasn’t actually told her parents that Chris is black.

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Yes, she’s Brian Williams’ daughter. We’ve moved on from that by now, right? She’s been on Girls for 6 seasons at this point.

Or is it? Might any unpleasantness on this trip be in Chris’ head, the anxiety of a man in an unfamiliar place and stuck in a stressful situation?

Yeaaaaaah…..no. That’s not it. Something bad is going to happen; we just don’t know what or why.

On the trip to the parents’ house, Chris and Rose do unfortunately encounter a seemingly racist cop, but once at the house the parents (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener) turn out to be perfectly welcoming, enlightened liberals, the type who don’t even seem to notice the color of Chris’ skin. How could they be racists? They voted for Obama!

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We don’t need to seek out our one black friend anymore. Now white people have “I voted for Obama” to prove we’re not racist.

This is the area of the film most informed by Peele’s own experiences. As TIME noted in its recent profile, “’When Obama was elected, for eight years, we lived in this postracial lie,’ Peele says. He kept noticing ‘subtle, seemingly harmless interactions’—like dialed-up zeal for Obama—that served as a reminder that racism still thrives. ‘If we were in a postracial society,’ he says, ‘I would not feel like a token black guy in a room full of white people trying to connect with me about basketball.’”

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Thus, Rose’s dad says things like “My man!” to Chris and goes out of his way to celebrate the legacy of Jesse Owens while the mom expresses sympathy upon hearing of Chris’ upbringing in the hood. But there’s something slightly off about the whole situation, with the parents displaying little idiosyncrasies we might otherwise ignore if we weren’t already on high alert. The dad cracks an oddly genocidal joke about deers. The mom appears to be psycho-analyzing Chris, with Keener’s usual indie drama vocal tics tempered in such a way that there’s a hint of menace behind her every pause and cold calculation behind the surface level warmth.

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Maybe the dad has a weird sense of humor, and the mom is a psychiatrist. Maybe she can’t really turn it off. Or so Chris hopes.

But what’s with family’s black groundskeeper and maid behaving like Stepford Wives versions of The Help?

Maybe…actually, that is super weird.

Hey, maybe the groundskeeper has a thing for Rose and is a little jealous? And the maid, well, she’s just straight up crazy.

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Get Out goes on like this for the majority of its running time, with Chris continually attempting to rationalize every new strange twist in the fucked-up version of Meet the Parents he’s living out. Except, of course, this isn’t Meet the Parents. Early 2000s hilarity does not ensue. Instead, the better reference point is Rosemary’s Baby. As TIME noted, “As a fan of Rosemary’s Baby, Peele says he could relate to the experience of female oppression through Mia Farrow’s performance. When he sat down to write Get Out, he began to think the same could and should be done for race.”

Thus, Chris is the Mia Farrow of Get Out, helped along by Kaluuya’s (a British actor Peele mostly knew through a Black Mirror episode) capable performance. Williams is stuck in Teri Polo in Meet the Parents mode, i.e., continually playing down Chris’ mounting concerns, but she is just supportive and loving enough to keep her culpability (is she in on “it,” whatever “it” is, or is she completely in the dark?) a complete mystery. Whitford and Keener perfectly toe the line between slightly unnerved parents who think they like black people but don’t know how to talk to them and menacing figures whose smile obscures darker intentions.

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“I see white people”

The make or break character of the movie might actually be comedian Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ cousin, a TSA agent who rains down one-liners. He’s stuck back in Manhattan on dogsitting duty, popping up mostly through phone calls with Chris to offer up his hilarious theories (“White people like themselves some sex slaves!”) for what might be going on. Howery’s presence is the most overt link between Peele’s past a sketch comedy performer and longstanding preference to actually be a horror movie director:

What happens at the parent’s house is the work of a true student of the genre, melding together, as Peele told Variety, “the idyllic nature of The Stepford Wives, the beauty of The Overlook Hotel in The Shining, Polanski’s use of shadow in Rosemary’s Baby and the depth of the frame from Halloween.” However, what happens with Howery is broad, “black friend in a horror movie” comedy. For some, these two flavors might not go well together, but for me it proved to be a surprisingly enticing mix, with Howery judiciously sprinkled throughout to provide tension-relieving comedy only when the film absolutely needs it.

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Nate Parker flanked by the 4 white produces who made Birth of a Nation with him

But maybe I just think that or I’m just saying that because I’m white. Maybe I’m going easy on Get Out because of white liberal guilt. After all, I’ve heard various off-the-record stories of white film critics who went soft on Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation at Sundance 2016 due to lingering guilt over #OscarsSoWhite. And as ScreenZealots’ Louisa said of Get Out at this year’s Sundance, “I predict many critics will proclaim this movie as being a true original, but it’s not. I think some will be afraid to criticize the film and its many flaws because of it.”

Her prediction came true: Get Out is being proclaimed a true original, with not a single rotten review among the 134 currently listed on RottenTomatoes. My social media feed is clogged with fellow cinephiles falling over themselves with praise for Peele’s masterful directorial debut. It’s already the movie that’s spawned a million thinkpieces linking its message to the new racial truth of Trumpism, namely that we are suddenly in a new golden age of racism and xenophobia.

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Are we blind to Get Out‘s faults? Doesn’t it take just a little too long to get to its point? Doesn’t that scene with Howery at the police station feel like it belongs in a different movie? Does the twist actually hold up to the logic test?

The answers, in order: Maybe, but any faults are minor. The pacing is perfectly in keeping with many other stellar psychological thrillers. Yes, that police scene is too broad, more at home in Fist Fight (which has a nearly identical scene) than in Get Out. The twist make sense, and is oh, so devilish.

Sometimes, though, the hype is real. Sometimes the praise is earned. Peele set out to use the horror genre to speak to race in a way it hasn’t since maybe The People Under the Stars, and he absolutely succeeded in exposing, as Paste concluded, “white audiences to black American fears in 2017, and to give black audiences cathartic release for said fears.” Peele reportedly now has four other, what he calls, “social conscious thrillers” in development. Can he top Get Out?  I can’t wait to watch him try.

ROTTENTOMATOES CONSENSUS

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About Kelly Konda (1742 Articles)
Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

2 Comments on Review: Does White Guilt Make Us Reluctant to Criticize Get Out?

  1. Please don’t go easy on a black film out of white guilt. When I saw reviews for Nate Parkers movies, white ppl lauded it, but I saw much more honest reviews of the movie from black reviewers, and I kind of knew why white reviewers were going easy on it. Because they were kinda scared to critique it, in an honest way, for fear of being called racists.

    Depending on the type of movie or show, I will seek out the opinions of white critics. I didn’t for Luke Cage or Beyonces Lemonade, because I don’t feel like white ppl had anything to add to that discussion. But I did for this movie as a lot of white ppl found a lot to relate to, just as a regular horror movie, even without the social messages, which I found interesting.

    I haven’t seen this movie yet. I’m waaay behind in my movie watching, but Im glad and appreciate that this movie has gotten some excellent reviews, based on its merits just as a good movie to be seen.
    Yours included. Thanx!

    • I remember your reaction to Beyoncé’s Lemonade. It’s still one of the favorite things I’ve seen you write. Like, as a white dude who listens to a lot of stereotypical white dude music (so many bearded dudes and their guitars) I only sort of understood the pop culture storm surrounding Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Your piece about it, though, cleared everything up in such a thoroughly entertaining way.

      What I noticed a lot of when Birth of a Nation was blowing up at Sundance was a lot of prognosticating, a lot of “Well, this is definitely the end of #OscarsSoWhite” and not nearly as much of “Yeah, but is it a good movie?” To be fair, that’s also partially because I was trying to avoiding reviews at the time since I wanted to see the movie unspoiled, but the few I did peruse were effusive with their praise. What’s interesting, though, is that you can’t even really say Birth of a Nation was then treated more fairly and honestly by critics once it came out some 7 months removed from the #OscarsSoWhite2 controversy. Because by the time of the theatrical release Birth of a Nation was overshadowed by Nate Parkers’, shall we say, “troubles.”

      As for Get Out, I like to think that I gave an honest reaction unencumbered by any white liberal guilt I might be carrying. Aside from one broad comedy scene at a police station, I couldn’t find anything in the movie that wasn’t astounding. Highly recommended, whenever you find the time of course.

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