' ' Cinema Romantico: Get Out

Monday, March 13, 2017

Get Out

Much like the American sci-fi movies of the 1950s often employed alien invasions as political allegories, writer/director Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” employs the framework of a horror movie to pick apart the racial divide in America. He does this by essentially lampooning the plot of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” as Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) brings her boyfriend of five months, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), home to meet her folks, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener). “Do they know I’m black?” Chris asks Rose. What transpires will no doubt upset a certain sort strident pro-Caucasian, especially given the amount of white carnage at the hands of black folks. But then, Peele is not interested in simply picking off easy targets like red-blooded racists; he is more astute and insidious. Instead he takes dead aim not only at the fantasy of a post-racial bliss but at the self-impressed white liberals, the kind that would’ve voted for Obama three times if they could have (guilty!). If you’re one of the latter and post-movie you immediately turn on your iPhone to check the NFL combine goings-on, I dare say you may have missed the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” parasitical-ish point.

Not that Peele pushes the horror into the background. No, “Get Out” contains nearly everything a horror movie traditionalist might expect, from the table-setting opening sequence, wonderfully filmed with a roving camera that disorients us just as the situation disorients the character on screen, to requisite shrieks on the soundtrack that mechanically make us jump to an explanatory set of photos perfectly stacked and left out for Chris to find them just when he needs them. Though this might make it sound like Peele is sending up the genre, he instead implements so many horror movie tropes to evince his ultimate argument.

At the sprawlingly fancy Armitage house, for instance, Chris almost immediately is made to feel that requisite Something Is Not Quite Right sensation by the groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and the housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), their demeanor bizarrely robotically polite, like they are pod people. Their presentation is not subtle. It’s so off, in fact, that you might wonder how Rose can’t help but notice it, especially when Chris continually brings it up. But Peele, bless his heart, isn’t interested in plausibility. He forgoes satirizing the obviousness of Something’s Not Right to use this Something’s Not Right to show us what’s really not right, like how Chris presses the issue and then backs off, afraid to rock the boat, made to doubt what his eyes tell him by Rose who simply dismisses what he’s saying as paranoia. It’s pretty ingenious, this, the way a conversation typical to horror movies instead becomes a satirizing of a white person telling a black person to not simply assume racist goings-on.

Rose’s parents, on the other hand, raise their own red flags, with Dean, desperate to pass himself off as a colorblind paragon of virtue making so many overtures of tolerance that Chris can only humor him with a cocked head amusement, a look Kaluuya deftly employs throughout, like he always only has one toe in the pool trying decide whether to take the plunge or turn and run. And Dean’s soliloquy on Jesse Owens smiting Hitler’s Aryan race, as well as a friend of Dean’s who shows up later and cites his love of Tiger Woods when introducing himself to Chris, is prophetic of a sort of literal appropriation to come, Peele improbably, incredibly melding “The Stepford Wives” with “Manderlay” which is about as far as I will go without tipping over into the netherworld of spoilers.

In the run-up to the more caustic twists and turns, Chris converses by phone with his friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), tasked with caring for Chris’s dog, reporting the evolving oddities he counters at the Armitage house. Rod issues oft-foul-mouthed warnings which initially play like comic relief only to assume more biting context the further Chris’s plight progresses, revealing the inherent dangers in black and white cultures mingling. No matter how we might like to think that no differences or prejudices remain, they do.

Indeed, anyone hoping for climactic détente between black and white will be sorely disappointed. Oh, it momentarily feints in that direction, quite brilliantly, as Peele plants a set-up very early on that suddenly seems destined to pay off in a late movie shot on a darkened road, tailor made for a come-full-circle White Savior payoff. I will say no more except to say that what I expected most utterly did not happen. Post-racial? Get out of here.

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