REVIEW: “Get Out”

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Comedian Jordan Peele’s directorial debut “Get Out” has certainly reeled in a ton of high praise. The former Comedy Central sketch series star also wrote the screenplay for this wild mish-mash of genres, influences, and ideas. Peele clearly aims to make a movie that can be several different things at once, but I’m not sure any of the film’s multiple identities are all that strong.

Many have called “Get Out” a horror-comedy and that seems fitting enough. Problem is I had to strain hard to find it either funny or scary. The humor ranges from conventional to glaringly satirical. It leans especially hard into its biting social/racial satire much of which is either too silly or too on-the-nose. Then you have the horror element which teases but never fully delivers. I feel Peele is making a subconscious play intended to make us fear what the film is implying more than what it is showing. I like that idea but even it is subverted by the shaky attempts at humor and the sheer absurdity of it all.

The film starts with promise – a startling opening sequence showing a young black man walking through a (presumably) white upper-class neighborhood. It’s late at night and the young man is searching for an address. A car creeps up behind him causing him to nervously change course. The inevitable interaction that follows makes a strong statement as well as launches the story in a compelling direction.

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There is a very “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” meets “The Stepford Wives” vibe from there. It starts by introducing us to a young photographer named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) who agrees to meet the rich parents of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). As they pack for their weekend visit Chris asks “They know I’m black, right?” Rose reassures him even tossing out that her parents would have voted Obama in for a third term. If that’s the case clearly nothing could go wrong, right?

The two travel to the secluded countryside estate of Rose’s parents (shrewdly played by Bradley Whitfield and Catherine Keener). Their visit coincides with an annual house party her parents throw for their posh, powerful (and white) acquaintances. As the collection of stiff, suit-and-gown bluebloods meet Chris they seem impervious to their racial insensitivities (we get several goofy lines about liking Tiger Woods and black being “in fashion”).

On one hand Peele is doing something crafty underneath these peculiar interactions. They actually have purpose. On the other hand it’s hard to believe someone wouldn’t see through all the weirdness and (as the title says) get out of there. This is stressed even more by the groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and the housekeeper Georgina (keenly played by Betty Gabriel). Both are African-Americans who exist in a freaky trance-like state. Again, how anyone would stick around is beyond me. But to be fair horror movies often ask you to simply go with things like this.

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Aside from a handful of intriguing bits, things finally begin to simmer in the final act right up until its wonky blood-soaked ending. The finale features a crazy tonal shift which is sure to satisfy crowds but felt jarring and out of sync with the rest of the film. Peele flirts with going in a more gonzo direction which would have been a lot of fun. Instead he chooses a more traditional horror route that could be taken a number of ways from ridiculous all the way to offensive.

There are several other issues that hold the film back. One is Daniel Kaluuya’s performance. Yes, I know he has been universally praised, but for me he gives two very different performances. The first half of the film features a flat, low-key Kaluuya who relies on the same puzzled expression over and over again. The second half sees him open up and his performance moves from bland to superb. Other problems tie into Peele’s script. There are numerous holes in the logic and some laughable conveniences. There is also a key moment where Peele completely tips his hand too early and ends up seriously undercutting the tension in what could have been one of the film’s best scenes.

It would be dishonest not to admit to being surprised at the profound adulation for “Get Out”. I do understand why people like it. It explores some meaty themes and there are some truly interesting narrative angles. I think that’s why I found myself so frustrated at its uneven execution. I can see the ingredients for a better film sprinkled all through this one. Ultimately it’s a perplexing first feature for Peele – one that shows him to be a promising young filmmaker with big ideas but one who needs to work on his handling of them.

VERDICT – 2.5 STARS

2-5-stars

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27 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Get Out”

  1. Ah, Keith, I just knew somehow you won’t like it… I think your expectations were really high! I really loved this film but didn’t expect anything. The performances were strong, Betty Gabriel was my favourite.

    Get Out is not a masterpiece and I probably won’t rewatch it, but it is a very impressive debut, it manages to express some serious ideas and entertain, at the same time combining multiple genres… and technically an impeccable one, from my point of view. Makes me think of Lobster (which you rayed 3.5 if I remember well).

    I am glad you said what you said in the last paragraph though.

    Did you watch 15 Million Merits? It is a very curious Black Mirror episode with Kaluuya. He is very minimal there.

    • I’m really conflicted on this thing. On the one hand I do like some of its ideas and it’s a pretty nice feature debut. On the hand I feel pretty big missteps. And despite its cleverness in some areas, I never found it to be the rousing horror-thriller many have.

      100% agree on Betty Gabriel. She is magnificent. Mysterious and compelling throughout. I have seen 15 Million Merits. Sounds intriguing.

      • Have you seen it?

        Yep, I didn’t see it as a pure horror, of course, it’s not very scary, but as a good satirical thriller it may count. I think a film like this is hard to categorize. It makes me feel of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” which is very good (1956).

        I also did watch “Stepford Wives” (the old one) just recently, and I liked it, but it wasn’t as good as “Get Out” and had too strong feminism tone in it.

  2. Nice review. I am happy to find someone who is not totally smitten with this film. Like you, I found faults, and was not satisfied with the overall result. I especially agree with you that the ending is “out of sync with the rest of the film” – I think this is to put it mildly. I found the ending very disappointing.
    However, the biggest concern for me here was that the film mixed brilliant, eerie moments of hidden danger present with overt , laugh-out-loud instances of violence. It was not original for me, it just spoiled such a film which was like The Stepford Wives.

    • Yes, I am a bit amazed at the widespread praise it’s gotten. There are so many holes in the story and its structure. And I’m still amazed at how the movie undercuts it’s ending with such a clumsy handling of things. I could go on, but for me this fell right into the pool of bland clumsily executed horror/thrillers. There are unquestionably some good ideas at work, but I think Peele makes a mess of them.

  3. I loved this film and have watched it three times now. While you do have to suspend you belief, especially with the wonky science in the latter half, I thought the layered social commentary worked extremely well. I completely get your point of view on the film, especially the why wouldn’t he just leave part, but I think his staying speaks more to the social expectations placed on him the entire trip. He is constantly trying not to be a distraction/draw unwanted attention, knowing full well his presence alone (specifically his skin colour) will be drawing tons of attention in the first place.

    Though I know several people who were lukewarm on the film, it ranks among my favourites for the year.

    • You actually tap into some of my bigger frustrations. Some of the best ideas are found in the social commentary Peele is exploring. A friend and I were discussing the crafty (and frankly genius) correlation Peele makes with slavery. More specifically in the “show me your swing” scene and the woman feeling of his muscles. It seems funny but it’s actually a disturbing call back to slave trading – buyers testing out the “merchandise”. If you can get beneath the surface that is powerful stuff. That’s a real strength. But for me Peele undercuts a lot of that power with some of his choices. I don’t want to spoil it for others but that last third drive me nuts. I never judge a film on one scene, but I felt Peele completely killed his big moment (Let’s say it involves a box of pictures and keys). Several smaller problems pulled me out of it but that misstep seemed the worst.

      • I understand how that can pull you out of the film. I agree that particular scene touches on the slavery aspect nicely. However, I think the film is taking bigger swings at post-Obama America on the whole. Specifically those, primarily liberals, who assumed voting for Obama meant the racial divide/prejudices were immediately washed away…even though the old pre-Obama structures and systems still remained. I think this is way the reveals, and some of the choices in the last act, did not bother me as much. To me they, especially the reveals, help to convey the themes of a culture benefiting off of those deemed as “other”; while still fitting into the horror/thriller conventions.

      • I see what you’re saying and I see Peele going for that. I just felt he undercut and sometimes muddled that messaging. In terms of the reveals, I’m mainly speaking to how they are mishandled dramatically. The one specifically mentioned overthrows any sense of suspense or tension for me the rest of the way.

        I can definitely say this about the film (and it’s a compliment I can’t make towards many other films), it certainly gives you things to chew on.

  4. I absolutely love this film, but I understand why I didn’t work for you, thanks to such a thoughtful and honest review. At the very least, I think Daniel Kaluuya deserves an Oscar nomination next year, but I doubt the Academy will recognize him.

  5. Interesting review, I definitely agree wit your take on Kaluuya’s performance. The first half of it is so flat that you really can’t stay interested in him. I’ve heard other’s say it was a take on the “nice, inoffensive black man” stereotype; that’s fair, but he was bland and I didn’t buy his relationship with Rose, which felt like it had no warmth.

    I also thought the movie left me a little bit confused with what the white people were doing; while watching it, I thought the black people were being taken in as slaves, not getting their brains harvested. It crossed so many genres and storylines that it felt like Peele was making things up as he went along a bit. By the time it’s finally explained what’s going on, it was hard to connect the various warning signs throughout the story.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I’m with you on Kaluuya. My issues with his first half performance really had nothing to do with the type of character he was portraying. As you said, he was bland and he seemed to be hitting the same note. I felt that changed in the film’s second half. I think Peele had some interesting ideas but bit off more than he could chew. I think he gets a bit too clever in some parts and is a bit too clumsy in others.

  6. I saw this one in the theatre when it first came out with no expectations. I thoughts it was ok; good first two thirds, really interesting themes around race and society being cleverly explored, and like you, I thought the final third was weak and undermined most of the good set-up work. I gave it 3/5, solid effort, not really worth all the adulation.

    • I think going in with no expectations would have helped my experience with it. Instead I went in after hearing all of the hype and even speculations of awards attention. Needless to say it didn’t deliver for me on those levels.

  7. Nice review Keith. Although I am a big fan of Jordan Peele, I was disappointed by Get Out. I think the first half of the film worked perfectly as a social satire, but the Death Wishy finale fell flat with me. I would have preferred if Peele stuck with his original ending, which would have seen Chris getting arrested. That would have given Get Out a great, Night of the Living Dead-esque ending about police brutality and race relations.

    • It was pretty hit-or-miss with the first half. I went back-and-forth between “oh that’s really crafty” and “ give me a break”. But the third act drove me bonkers. I would have been happier if it went full gonzo. It hinted at it, but unfortunately Peele went a different route

  8. Good review!
    “There are numerous holes in the logic and some laughable conveniences. There is also a key moment where Peele completely tips his hand too early and ends up seriously undercutting the tension in what could have been one of the film’s best scenes.”
    Now that we’re in the comments section (where spoilers are allowed), can you specify to what you were referring here?

    • I usually don’t even do spoilers in the comments section. I hate having movies ruined for me and I am always extra precautious. But I’ll talk about this particular key scene (SPOILER). It involves the box of photos all the way through to the car keys. As Chris is packing he fortunately sees a strange door half open (that’s convenient). Inside is a box in the middle of the floor with all of the photos that incriminate Rose. What follows is what could’ve been one of the best scenes in the movie. Chris stands by the front door as Rose searches her purse for the car keys while the rest of the family semi-surround him. I can only imagine how suspenseful this scene could’ve been if Peele hadn’t already outed Rose. For me that stripped it of any suspense and laid the groundwork for the messy ending. That’s one biggie that could have been handled differently for a much better effect.

  9. I too wonder if your expectations were too high for this one 🙂 I saw it back in March or April (whenever it came out), and I didn’t read any reviews or posts on it. I actually really liked it, although the ending was kind of wonky for me. I definitely appreciate and respect your qualms with it though, and they’re all fair judgments. I’m going to have to re-visit this one soon to see if it still stands tall for me.

    • That’s very possible. I’m hearing “one of the year’s best” and awards buzz so I’m sure that somewhat shaped my expectations. But I was surprised at the issues that stood out to me. It seems so far from an awards caliber movie to me.

  10. I still think this is very good, but I have issues with the end (lat 20 minutes or so) as well. In my piece, I found it to be too much “Key and Peele-esque” after a really strong narrative to that point imo.

    I think Peele though is pretty flawless in his direction here technically. I really want to see him do a real horror movie now.

    • I think the most interesting elements are definitely in the first half (despite some of beefs). But Peele loses control of that last act and makes some bad choices that I felt squashed the intrigue. I liked the second half of Kaluuya’s performance and loved all of Gabriel’s she was absolutely hypnotic.

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