Get Out opens with a scene we’ve seen countless times in horror films: a lone young person walks nervously through an unfamiliar neighbourhood, eyes darting around for the attack they feel will come and, inevitably, does. Yet here it’s not the usual white woman in a bad part of town; it’s a black man in a middle-class neighbourhood. It’s a very quick and elegant way of upending a genre cliché and setting up a film that’s as smart a portrait of US race relations as it is a deeply creepy horror movie.
The target of Get Out’s satire isn’t the typical unabashedly racist extreme right, but the lefties who would consider themselves anything but. The centre of its story is Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a twentysomething black man with a white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams). Their relationship has reached the meet-the-parents stage. Chris is nervous that Rose’s parents might be uncomfortable that their daughter hasn’t told them to expect someone black, but Rose is confident they’ll be fine. Both are partly right.
Rose’s self-proclaimed ultra-liberal parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) are at great pains to show how cool they are with Chris. The phrase “my man” is used repeatedly. Obama’s name is brought up. Rose’s father apologises awkwardly for the fact the family has a black house keeper and gardener, the only two visible non-white people around. They’re so keen to make Chris feel special that he becomes weirdly fetishised for his blackness. Already uncomfortable, Chris starts to notice some very, very strange things are going on in this apparently liberal town.
Discomfort shudders through the entire film. Jordan Peele, half of cult American comedy duo Key & Peele, has made a horror movie that keeps you permanently uneasy. He fills it with small, surreal images that set you on edge. Everything is just a little off. As it progresses the story becomes more and more bizarre, eventually reaching something completely mad, but Peele’s laid the path so carefully that it works in context. You’ll be lucky to see smarter horror this year.