A little genre subversion goes a long way.

Jordan Peele’s social thriller Get Out opens with a sequence that neatly displays the two contrasting tones in the film. A young black man played by Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta, Short Term Twelve) is walking in the suburbs late at night. Despite being shrouded in shadows, Peele shows this is an idyllic, upper middle class suburb. The lawns are trimmed neatly and the fences freshly painted. A car begins to stalk alongside the character, reflecting not only the openings to most teen horror films in which a bit-part character is gruesomely killed off but, somewhat uncomfortably, the sequence reflects the countless ignored kidnappings of African Americans in the US. It’s difficult to not see this parallel, and Peele doesn’t have to do much for his audience to know it’s there. High profile cases like the killing of Trayvon Martin echo throughout the film, and Peele delivers it in the guise of somewhat pulpy genre movie.

The rest of the movie follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, Sicario) and his white girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams, Girls). They’re off to visit Rose’s parents upstate, and Rose assures Chris they won’t care that he’s black. We as the audience know the Armitage house is Evil Dead’s cabin or Friday the Thirteenth’s summer camp: Chris is travelling into the belly of the beast. Although, when they get there, we learn the evil isn’t some cursed book or shadow-stalking maniac—it’s Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener playing Rose’s progressive, pleasant parents. Despite the calming presence of these excellently cast, wealthy Democrats, Chris stays on guard. He’s suspicious about the restrained black maid and groundskeeper and wonders why Mrs Armitage wants to hypnotise Chris out of his smoking habit. He can’t shake the feeling that things seem a little off.

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Get Out’s trailers marketed the film as a jumpy, frenetic horror movie. This created a buzz among mainstream horror fans who gather in groups and couples to flock to the latest Conjuring or Paranormal Activity instalment. If it tricks bigger audiences into seeing this clever, subversive and evenly paced thriller, then the marketing is doing an excellent job by conveying a misleading tone. Instead of making a scary film, Peele uses well-worn horror tropes to convey the experience a black man might have being assessed by a white family. Over-compensating politeness makes the film’s sense of unease and tension. Peele uses a lot of close-ups on the actor’s faces reflecting the slow, intimate style of David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows. His script is tightly wound and impeccably edited by Carmelo Casalenuovo, even if a few scenes feel cut short. Every detail that serves the plot is one carefully set up in an earlier shot. With a strict adherence to the rule of Chekhov’s gun, the attention to detail and essentialness of all the little pieces bare resemblance to the meticulous directing style of Edgar Wright. Towards the end, the film veers towards a more familiar narrative, though this is only in contrast to its excellent build-up.

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Every actor seems perfectly cast for their role. Kaluuya wears a look of consistent distrust, though his suspicions are offset by his love for Rose. Allison Williams owns her role as the golden child, but it’s the eerie, scene stealing performance from Georgina the maid (Betty Gabriel), whose quiet insanity gives the film its most unnerving moments.

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Get Out is a rare case of all the parts working smoothly with one other. It’s a labour of love and an astonishing directorial debut from Jordan Peele. Having already done well at the box office, here’s to hoping this ushers out the ploddingly predictable Conjuring sequels and encourages films that use genre tropes to tell important narratives.

 

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