The lingering, extreme close ups of faces manipulated to look psychotic. The all encompassing sound design that navigates between being unsettling one minute and utterly ridiculous the next. The feeling of unease that overwhelms the entire film, leading to fits of nervous laughter just to take away some of the mounting psychological tension so prevalent in every frame. If I hadn’t already known this was the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, I would have naturally hailed Get Out as the best Roman Polanski film in recent memory, a return to form for the Polish director that fully recaptures the paranoid malaise of his 60’s/70’s “Apartment Trilogy.
That Peele, a sharp comic satirist and performer, has created such a stylistically unnerving work uncanny to the fillmography of a genre master in his directorial debut is utterly remarkable. This isn’t a watered down horror comedy, but the real deal; an unnerving piece of horror cinema made by somebody with a real respect for the genre. The horror influences on Key & Peele sketches were always visible, especially in the later seasons. But for him to prioritise a feeling of unease over the joyous relief of laughter (even though there are many funny moments) is entirely unexpected, especially considering how on paper, the storyline feels no different to a parodic sketch he has become famous for making.
The entire set up is a horror movie riff on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, crossed with elements from several classic horror films Peele has professed an admiration for- the aforementioned paranoia of Rosemary’s Baby and the alien characterisations of The Stepford Wives (films which notably share the same screenwriter). In its first act, the film does frequently feel like a prolonged Key & Peele sketch lampooning what he perceives as the reverse-racism of white liberal America, with the tension feeling entirely satirical- Peele originally pitched this film as a “horror about the anxieties of being a black person today”.
In these stages, it doesn’t feel like anything is being hidden, so much as we just assume that Daniel Kaluuya’s character is freaking out about being in the midst of people who see him as the token black man they can only talk about race issues with, going out of their way to prove that they aren’t racist (“I would have voted for Obama for a third term if I could!”). As we are seeing events unfold solely through the protagonist’s eyes, it felt natural to assume that a twist would manifest, portraying nothing overtly creepy actually happening – just the character perceiving this “reverse racism” for the horror that it actually is.
I am extremely thankful the film didn’t carry on that way, as although Peele’s writing for that concept would have been extremely sharp and probing for a three minute sketch, stretching on for the best part of the first act somewhat dilutes the intended satirical sting. The movie gradually strays away from its comedic elements, transforming in to an entirely paranoid chiller that Polanski would be proud of. It does lose much of its satirical sting as it edges towards narrative closure, not fully focusing on its themes in order to display an aesthetic tribute to its influences- but the movie is effective when operating in either mode, never coming across as tonally uneven, even if satire eventually proves to be of less interest to Peele than resolving the tense storyline.
This is best displayed by the somewhat happy ending, which has very visible shadows of a darker, satirically sharp climax that was changed in order to absolve the audience of the unnerving, stomach churning tension that came before. As one of the finest satirists on race related issues in America today, it does feel disappointing that the third act strays towards introducing a pseudo-scientific element to the storyline, in order to satisfy his creative horror urges. The result is still utterly irresistible and easy to recommend, proving Peele knows how to craft horror in its most surreal form, it just never fully explores its race issues again, even though they should become significantly more prevalent in the later stages.
Get Out is further proof of horror cinema’s resurgence and burst in creativity, as well as being a great sign of things to come behind the camera for Jordan Peele. It is tense at times and gut bustlingly funny at others, without ever feeling like a watered down “horror comedy” hybrid – a truly game changing film, that still finds time to pay earnest tribute to the masterworks that influenced it.