Hor­ror film con­fronts scary truths about race

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - KATIE WALSH

Genre films — hor­ror, com­edy, fan­tasy, Westerns — have al­ways been great ves­sels for so­cial com­men­tary. The plea­sures of genre con­ven­tions al­low such mes­sag­ing to go down easy; the spoon­ful of cine­matic sugar that helps the medicine go down. Ac­tor/comedian Jor­dan Peele’s di­rec­to­rial de­but, “Get Out,” is an ex­pert ex­am­ple of the way this works, though it’s far more than just a tren­chant cul­tural cri­tique wrapped in an ap­peal­ing pack­age. In this hor­ror film, the hor­ror is us, our his­tory, our own trou­bled re­la­tion­ship with race. It’s bold, provoca­tive, funny, and an over­due tonic for a so­ci­ety and me­dia sat­u­rated with ar­chaic norms and images.

In the sear­ing Os­car-nom­i­nated doc­u­men­tary “I Am Not Your Ne­gro,” writer James Bald­win’s words are used to tear at the seams of Amer­ica’s so­cially con­structed fa­cade about race; at the laws, in­sti­tu­tions and me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tions that have po­si­tioned white­ness as the norm. One wishes, badly, that Bald­win could take in “Get Out,” in which writer/di­rec­tor Peele flips hor­ror con­ven­tions on their head and, in do­ing so, flips our cul­tural per­cep­tions, re­veal­ing a dark un­der­side.

“Get Out” riffs on “Guess Who’s Com­ing to Din­ner” as Rose (Al­li­son Wil­liams) brings her new boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kalu­uya) home to her lily-white, up­per-crust com­mu­nity. While her neu­ro­sur­geon fa­ther (Bradley Whit­ford) and hyp­no­tist/psy­chi­a­trist mother (Cather­ine Keener) welcome him with open arms, Chris can’t help but no­tice that the other black peo­ple he en­coun­ters there just aren’t act­ing quite right and, frankly, the white peo­ple seem a lit­tle too in­ter­ested in him (and his phys­i­cal qual­i­ties).

Us­ing hor­ror stereo­types and genre ex­pec­ta­tions, Peele trans­forms the black guy from preda­tor to prey, from First Vic­tim to Fi­nal Girl. White­ness is no longer the norm, but creep­ing ter­ror and evil. It’s satire, but it’s also un­com­fort­ably real. When a black guy walk­ing alone on the street at night in the sub­urbs is in dan­ger from white peo­ple, that’s sim­ply a cold, hard fact ripped from the


Es­thet­i­cally, Peele demon­strates a deep knowl­edge of the hor­ror canon and its stylis­tic tech­niques. The cam­era creeps and glides around the pala­tial house; strings shriek and moan on the sound­track to great ef­fect. Scares come not from ex­treme vi­o­lence or gore but from a per­va­sive sense of dread and un­ease that some­thing isn’t quite right with the peo­ple here — it’s like “The Step­ford Wives” for race in­stead of gen­der.

The sound­track and score are ex­cep­tional, mix­ing hair-rais­ing mu­sic cues with clas­si­cal hor­ror com­po­si­tion that seam­lessly in­te­grates with the sound de­sign, which plays an im­por­tant part of the nar­ra­tive. As the hap­less vic­tim turned hero, Kalu­uya gives an un­ex­pected, though ut­terly per­cep­tive per­for­mance — as an in­tended vic­tim, he is know­ing, quiet and still, rather than sur­prised or hys­ter­i­cal. Wil­liams, Whit­ford and Lakeith Stan­field also of­fer up in­cred­i­ble sup­port­ing turns.

The film de­rives its dread from a fear of white peo­ple — that they will scheme, plan, kid­nap and ex­ploit black bod­ies for their own con­sump­tion, plea­sure and strength. That fear is all too real. That is not the boogey­man, that is Amer­ica. That is our na­tion’s his­tory (ahem, Thomas Jef­fer­son). The film and its height­ened, hor­rific sce­nario is so­cial satire, not pro­pa­ganda, but Peele forces the au­di­ence to con­front un­com­fort­able truths here. That gutsy com­men­tary goes down smoothly with the help of his as­sured and con­fi­dent di­rec­tion.


Al­li­son Wil­liams and Daniel Kalu­uya in a scene from, "Get Out."

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