Film review: Get Out

Race-relations comedy horror Get Out has developed an early reputation as a landmark in American filmmaking. But lower those expectations – it’s B-grade stuff, more likely to disappoint than frighten, amuse or intrigue.

May 11, 2017, updated May 11, 2017

The directorial debut of Comedy Central sketch actor Jordan Peele revolves around photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a black man invited to meet the parents of his white girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) at their opulent estate.

Having survived the road trip, the couple arrives to a sheepish welcome from Rose’s father, neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford), and mother, hypnotherapist Missy (Catherine Keener).

Dean makes some ham-fisted comments, trying to convince Chris he and his wife are politically liberal, and not racists.

The atmosphere becomes increasingly ominous, and strange, as we meet the family’s zombie-like employees – housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson), who are African-American – and Rose’s corrosive, unpredictable brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones).

As the visit wears on, Chris finds himself the centre of attention at a supposedly annual get-together at the house, attended by a crowd of rich, white, elderly friends of the family.

Several show a weird, intense interest in Chris, his race and his physique.

In what is one of the few really arresting moments in Get Out, Chris unwittingly and involuntarily walks into a devastating hypnosis session that does more than cure his smoking habit.

It’s Kaluuya’s emotive best. (Like much of the film though, the scene will be ruined if you’ve watched the trailer.)

As the tension builds, Chris makes a series of increasingly agitated phone calls to his friend, customs officer Rod (Lil Rey Howery), who is also black.

Rod provides sometimes-funny comic relief and repeatedly warns that white people like to keep black sex slaves.

Chris finally uncovers the reason for all the bizarre, menacing behaviour in the house and attempts a bloody escape.

Peele, who also wrote the screenplay, must have wanted it to be at least scary, funny and thought-provoking. He is responsible for the fact it’s not very much of the latter two.

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The talented and experienced comedian should have been able to produce better than the mostly lame gags Howery has to deliver.

As to whether the film provokes thought, its animating concept is that outwardly progressive white Americans can harbour sinister racism under the surface, and that liberal America is no egalitarian paradise for people of colour.

The thesis is promising, but its execution in Get Out turns the whole enterprise into a parade of racial stereotypes.

The fact that the film is also not very scary (there is some inexpensive gore) can be put down to the influence of its producer, Jason Blum – Hollywood’s star low-budget movie guru.

Blumhouse Productions started churning out dozens of cheap flicks after delivering proof-of-concept by squeezing a $195 million box-office blockbuster out of its $11,000 home movie horror Paranormal Activity a decade ago.

Costing a heftier (but modest by Hollywood standards) $4.5 million, Get Out is less scary and less convincingly written, and Paranormal Activity is a low bar.

But it will make Blum plenty of dosh. Get Out has been leading the US box office, and critics seem to be falling over themselves to give early, abundant praise to the mediocre project. Which sets up a global audience for disappointment.

The film has conceptual promise, but the delivery is tacky as hell, and it’s not a terrifying scream-fest or a witty satire, either. It’s another sloppily written American horror movie.

It might have been so much more.

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