I never intended to jump on the Get Out bandwagon. For one thing, I don’t typically review new releases. Second, when it came out, the immediate and overwhelming praise also made me leery. Call me a contrarian, but I have a long history of being disappointed by movies that met with widespread acclaim.
The Strangers and The Blair Witch Project leap to mind.
True, when I first saw the preview back in October, I couldn’t wait. But I also know I’m a total sucker for previews. Still, if David Edelstein can get on NPR and say, “Get Out really is Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner meets The Stepford Wives,” well, I’m all in.
Still, I’ve heard a lot of that. Jordan Peele acknowledges as much. One connection I haven’t seen mentioned is George S. Schuyler’s Harlem Renaissance novel, Black No More.In it he skewers everything from the KKK to the NAACP. Black, white, nobody was safe from bite of Schuyler’s caustic satire of race relations. The plot was simple enough. Dr. Crookman invents a process to turn black people into white people. By the end of the novel, so many people have become white that it’s nearly impossible to tell who “really” is or is not of either race.
But it’s the end of the novel that’s the most interesting in terms of Get Out. There is widespread discrimination against people with pale skin to the point where, as Schuyler says, “Those of upper class began to look around for ways to get darker.” Soon enough, someone invents a skin stain to do just that.
It’s tempting to say Get Out picks up where Black No More leaves off, but that doesn’t really go far enough. A better observation might be that Get Out is, at least in part, an unsettling culmination of what Dr. Crookman set in motion. Schuyler, it seems, was chillingly prophetic.
Edelstein also describes Get Out as “low-key until the last part when it’s not.” I’m not sure what he means by low-key. “Of low intensity” or “not very forceful, emotional, or noticeable” is what one finds at Merriam-Webster.com. The intensity mounts considerably in the last half hour, sure, but there are several intense, forceful, emotional, and noticeable moments throughout the film.
More importantly, Jordan Peele basically offers a clinic on the slow burn. The tension ratchets up a notch at a time through seemingly unimportant, circumstantial things: The maid Georgina’s scrutiny of Chris, Jeremy Armitage’s overly keen interest in Chris’s background, the repeatedly unplugged phone, etcetera. Minor things are off just enough to make us uneasy yet would make Chris sound paranoid if he were to articulate them.
Only he doesn’t. He shrugs all of these little (and a few not so little) weirdnesses off with a good-natured, “It’s all good.” Rather than saying Get Out is low-key until it’s not, it might be more accurate to say it’s all good.
Until it’s not.
There are no bad performances here. I already loved Daniel Kaluuya in the “Fifteen Million Merits” episode of Black Mirror, Allison Williams handles her pivotal role brilliantly, Bradley Whitford is invasively and unnervingly chummy as patriarch/mastermind, and Caleb Landry Jones (delightfully twisted in Antiviral) is downright vile.
But let’s talk for a second about Betty Gabriel. If show-stealing were a crime, she’d be doing hard time for cinematic grand larceny. The scene where Georgina’s veneer momentarily slips then gets clamped back on is wordless which makes the effect astounding.
Get Out also qualifies as an example of what I’ve taken to calling Kuleshov Effect Movies. It’s similar to but not quite the same as dramatic irony. Briefly, Lev Kuleshov famously interspersed shots of a bowl of soup, a girl in a coffin, and a seated woman with shots of actor Ivan Mosjoukine’s face. Viewers thought Mosjoukine’s expression changed depending on what he was looking at.
Mosjoukine’s footage was exactly the same each time. The change is only in our heads.
I’ve talked about this before in terms of Twin Peaks and Calvaire. Knowing what you know about Leland Palmer changes the effects of his face the second time you see Twin Peaks. Knowing where Calvaire is going changes the meaning of Marc touching up his make-up in the first scene. Same thing happens in The Sixth Sense and The Stepford Wives (obviously). Get Out works the same way.
Not sure what I mean? See Get Out. Go to the earliest showing you can find. That way you can go buy another ticket and see it again immediately after.