SPOILER ALERT: This review will discuss key plot points of this film. If you have not seen Get Out yet, I encourage you to see it before reading this review.
Racism is a real horror. It is lurking beneath the surface in plain sight. That is the fact that lingers in your mind as you watch Get Out - and I think that's the point. Director Jordan Peele (yes, of Key and Peele fame) has talked about how he began working on this movie during the Obama administration when he would hear people talk about a "post-racial" society. He wanted to expose the lie.
Something else that I recognized after watching this film is the common compulsion to come to quick conclusions about tough subjects. We often call this our "hot take" culture. But movies like Get Out encourage thought, reflection and conversation, and that's a great thing! In fact, my own conception of the film was changed thanks to a discussion with my wife, Sarah, after we watched the film together. It was a really beautiful thing.
The movie begins with a black man walking alone down a suburban street at night. He is visibly nervous, and eventually a car pulls up behind him on the street and begins to follow him. He begins to walk the other way, but he turns around to see the car parked with a door open. He tries to ignore it and get away, but he is attacked and killed by the driver (who is now wearing a knight's helmet) and dragged away.
We then see Rose (Allison Williams) as she is buying pastries and coffee for her boyfriend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), our main character. Chris is about to meet Rose's parents for the first time, and Rose has not told them that Chris is black. Chris wonders if this will be an issue, but Rose assures him that it won't be.
On the way out to her parent's wooded, upstate abode, Rose notices Chris going for a cigarette. She quickly throws it out the window and lets Chris know that her parents surely would not approve of her dating a smoker. We then meet my favorite character of the film - TSA agent Rod (LilRel Howery). Chris calls him to remind him to take care of his dog while he is away. Rod tells Chris that this trip is a bad idea. After hanging up the phone, Chris and Rose are in conversation when a deer suddenly jumps in front of their car on the road. They stop to make sure the car is okay, and Chris walks back to see the deer laying in the woods by the side of the road. We hear the animal's painful moans, but we aren't quite sure why Chris is so drawn to it.
They call the police, who quickly show up and begin asking them about the incident. The officer asks for Chris's ID even though he was not the one driving the car. Rose stands up for him, and the officer lets them go.
At multiple points early on in the film, we hear Rose's reasoning for why her parents will have no issue with Chris's race. "If they could have they would have voted for Obama a third time," she says. What was so striking about these interactions, for me, was how true to life they are. I am white, and I have grown up and lived in a white, midwestern context my entire life. I've heard many of these same types of comments before. It was a good reminder for me to look deeper than surface-level interactions with race and consider how I'm engaging discussion and growth in more meaningful ways. If I'm not, then how can I do that?
The two finally arrive at Rose's parents' house, and we meet Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener). I will always love Brad Whitford as an actor for his portrayal of Josh Lyman on The West Wing. He's a fantastic actor, and I think this is his best work I've seen outside the Aaron Sorkin political epic (Though he will also be in the upcoming Steven Spielberg movie, The Post, so hold that thought.) We find out that both parents have odd professions. Dean is a neurosurgeon and Missy is a hypnotherapist. She tells Chris that she can help him beat his smoking habit through hypnosis. Chris politely declines.
We also come to find out that the Armitages have two black helpers - groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and maid/housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel). We know there is something off about them as soon as we meet them. Their eyes and facial expressions are just...off. In a private conversation with Chris, Dean acknowledges the bad optics of a white man having two black helpers. But he says that they were hired to help his dying parents, and he didn't have the heart to let them go.
The family gathers for afternoon tea, and we come to find out an important aspect of Chris's character. Missy asks him about his parents. Chris explains that his father left when we was very young, and his mother died after being hit by a car when he was 11. The Armitages then explain that their "big party" will be the next day. Though Rose seems surprised by the announcement, her parents remind her that it is the same day every year. Shortly after, Rose's brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) arrives.
At dinner that night, Jeremy has obviously had too much to drink. He begins talking about MMA fighting with Chris. Jeremy says that because Chris comes from "hearty stock" he'd be a natural. It is the kind of off-handed comment that is easily-bypassed in our culture. The problem is that, when you really look at those types of comments, the attempt at humor quickly wears away to reveal a darker reality. These comments have no place at any dinner table.
While Jeremy's tone-deaf attempts at humor fall flat, the rest of the movie provides legitimate laughs, especially from Rod. Some of Chris's phone calls with his TSA pal are downright hilarious. The laughs provide necessary opportunities to breathe. While horror is, admittedly, a genre that I have avoided for the most part, I've seen enough horror flicks to know that they commonly attempt to do the same thing - use humor to soften the blows and smooth the sharply-slashed edges. But, while the laughs here do perform that function, I think they also continually point us back to the film's purpose - consideration of our country's racial context. Everything in this film seems driven towards that purpose, and Jordan Peele deserves all the credit in the world for his handling of the subject matter.
The movie makes its big shift when Chris has a tough time sleeping that night. To this point, there have been little hints that all is not right, but now things begin to pick up. Chris sees Walter running in the middle of the night. He sees Georgina in the upstairs window. Finally, he comes back inside to find Missy sitting in the parlor with a cup of tea that she is rythmically stirring with a spoon. She asks him to sit, telling him once again how she can cure him of his smoking habit through hypnotism. Chris mocks the idea, but sits down anyways despite the fact that we as the viewers can feel the level of creepiness growing with every *tink* of the tea spoon.
Missy begins to hypnotize him. She asks him about his mother's death. We find out the Chris blames himself. His mom usually came home from work at a certain time, and that day she was hours late. He was afraid that if he called the police, it would make the fact that something had happened to his mother reality. Instead, he sat there watching television and digging his nails into his bedpost while his mother lay helplessly by the side of the road. The incident with the deer now takes on new meaning. We cringe as present-day Chris digs his nails deeply into his chair in the parlor. Missy then tells him to sink into "The Sunken Place" and Chris falls into blackness. He sees himself and Missy far above him in what looks like a television screen.
I must say that the cinematography of this scene is visually stunning. The frightening nature of what we're seeing is offset by the beautiful visuals and artistic camera work. It is without a doubt the best cinematography I've ever seen in a horror film.
Chris wakes up the next morning and is obviously shaken by what he saw. From here, the movie begins to unravel more of the sinister underpinnings of this family. I do not want to give away the movie's secrets, as I've already discussed enough of the plot. But all is not as it seems, and yet it's all right there in front of us. I think racism is often like that. This movie does a masterful job of showing that the horror is right there for us to see. It just takes a little looking.
By the end of the film, an attempt has been made to forcably take Chris's very identity from him. Rose's entire family, including herself, are in on the plot. As his hope is fading, Chris is able to make one final attempt to get out. He succeeds, but as he is making his escape, he sees Georgina in the rearview mirror. Thoughts of his mother by the road come to his mind. He makes the decision to go back - at this point, after seeing what you've seen, you'll be screaming for him to reconsider - because he has to finally face his past. If he can save her, maybe that can help banish the guilt he has over not saving his mom.
But Georgina is too far gone. Though Chris does pick her up off the road and take her in the car with him, her true identity is revealed. He has not saved her, but, in a sense, he has saved himself. A gunfight ensues, and Chris is left in front of a crumpled car with dead bodies lying in the road.
Then a police car pulls up.
My wife let out an audible gasp at this moment while we were watching. You know what's about to happen. After all the horrors he has been through, now Chris is going to go to jail because it looks like he did it. Instead, we see a familiar face get out of the police car, and he and our hero ride off into the proverbial sunset.
Now, I watched a version of Get Out that had an alternate ending with commentary from Jordan Peele playing simultaneously. In it, Peele explains that the original ending would have gone the route that you assume when you first see the police car. He was going to have Chris taken to jail. In this scenario, the fact that he is physically in prison would have been contrasted with the emotional and spiritual freedom he gained from going back for Georgina. Though he would be unjustly imprisoned, the bars and the locks could not hold in the victory he had over his demons.
Right after watching the film, I told Sarah that I preferred the alternate ending. Peele had chosen that first for a reason, I surmised. I thought it almost made Chris's character MORE heroic, because it further underlines the importance of his decision to go back for Georgina.
But then, the next day, Sarah and I talked about the film some more. She was adamant that the ending that was ultimately chosen was the proper one. As we talked some more, I came to agree with her.
Here's the thing, the alternate ending may have been more emotionally resonant. But you'd still have the image of a black man in jail for crimes he didn't commit. We don't need to see more representation of that. What we do need are heroic black characters in movies. This film surely gives us that.
And speaking of heroism, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that either ending really have a small bearing on how heroically we view Chris's character. The moment he goes back for Georgina, he becomes a hero. In that moment, when he has the opportunity to get out, it is his selflessness to go back for someone he doesn't know that makes him a hero. No matter what happens after that, he is already heroic. So, ultimately, I think Jordan Peele made the right choice in ending. This one is certainly more uplifting after the preceding scenes give us barrage after barrage of difficult material.
What I love about this film is that it did spark discussion. My wife and I had fantastic talks about this movie for days after we watched it. As I said, it was those discussions that led to me changing my view of the film. The movie used beautiful camera work, a fantastic script and quality acting to bring to life a true horror - racism and its ability to lurk right under the surface of everyday life. In doing so, this film sparks meaningful discussion that can change minds and, hopefully, bring healing.
I think we need more films like that.
Note on content: While this film can definitely be considered a horror film, it is certainly not a slasher film. It doesn't have the gore that you might be used to from the genre. However, there are frightening scenes that do contain some violence and fair amount of blood. Much of the horror of this film is the psychological kind. There is some minor sexual dialogue, and there are a few passionate kisses. But the sexual content in this film is quite tame. There is profanity - including repeated uses of the "n-word" - throughout.