Get Out: the fantasy of justice

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

I’m late to the party, and yes, this is another post about something people have already raved about. But I finally saw it on Sunday and had to talk about it. Get Out is a tense horror grounded in the real world but managing to balance realism with hypnotism, brain transplantation and ‘the sunken place’.

Art by Jermaine Rogers (jermainerogers.com)

I was most drawn to this film because of the director, quite honestly. Jordan Peele is one half of excellent comedy duo, Key and Peele and another half of excellent marriage to Chelsea Peretti, queen of all. I’ve liked what I’ve seen of his work up until now and wanted to support his big screen debut. Also the trailer was ACE – I had at least three friends watch it with me on separate occasions and squirm every time.

Because that’s what this film does: it makes you uncomfortable. It’s not a conventional horror film although it does draw on some tropes of gore, a house in the middle of nowhere and the odd jump scare. And yes, as previously mentioned, it tends towards the fantasy side of things, moving into alternate realms where people can be trapped after being hypnotised.

But what made me more uncomfortable, where the tension stemmed from for me, and for most people I’d imagine, is what’s closest to what we know of our world: that racism is still a thing. The microaggressions performed by the white people in this film are on the nose, so like things we’ve heard other people say, have said ourselves or have been on the receiving end of that it is impossible to watch this film entirely without recoiling at least once. I spent the film on the edge of my seat, not because of fear (although it is scary) but because I knew what was coming and I had seen it, am part of it, in my own life: yet more white privilege.

Aside from that, it’s incredibly well-directed, the visuals are gorgeous, the SOUND DESIGN IS SO GOOD as well as the music choices. Redbone by Childish Gambino features in the opening following the credits so you already know. The acting is stellar – I have a soft spot for Bradley Whitford who was perfect in his role as creepy-thinks-he’s-liberal-would’ve-voted-for-Obama-for-a-third-term-patriarch. Allison Williams almost had me, her acting pitch-perfect and would’ve convinced me of her innocence if not for the cynic inside me who knew every white person in this film would end up screwing the main character over. Daniel Kaluuya is ASTOUNDING. The nuance in his performance – the contrasts in the ways he speaks to his girlfriend, his family, his best friend – all speak to the parts Chris has to play in his life in order to get by.

The regulation of the behaviour of black people, the idea that black people are accepted into upper middle class white society if they act ‘more white’ or ‘less ghetto’, is literalised in this film with white people’s brains being transplanted into black bodies. The police presence throughout the film built up to the ending when Williams begins her ‘innocent white girl’ routine. A police car pulls up beside a situation which we begin to see through the eyes of someone who has not been watching the film where Chris has been kidnapped, tortured by the white family who he eventually manages to fight to escape. Instead, we see what the hypothetical policeman would see on arrival, a black man covered in blood clutching a gun and leaning over a white girl next to another dead body, and we understand the prejudices held.

The sinking feeling continues as we wait for Chris, after his heinous ordeal, to be arrested by a white police officer, maybe even shot like so many black men in the US. Peele shows us our own expectations of how this situation will end, and then subverts them in the form of Chris’s best friend driving the police car. Amongst my friends afterwards we debated whether it would’ve been a braver choice to end with what we expected: Chris being arrested. (We were having this conversation as three white people, I should point out.) We see so many black bodies being brutally murdered on camera in real life every day. Rarely does a week go by without police brutality or Black Lives Matter featuring in the news or on Twitter. We may have expected Chris’s brutal end or inevitable jail sentence and that may have been the more realistic ending.

But as I said at the beginning this is a film where we see alternative worlds. Hypnotism is visualised as the sunken place, Chris floats in what looks like space with only a television showing him his reality. Brain transplants give others control over different bodies. To me these are fantastical elements. Maybe Chris being saved from the clutches of a prejudiced police authority and driving off into the night with his best friend, hopefully to safety and to his dog, is yet another one of those moments of fantasy, an escape from reality for the viewer into another world where we can be sure justice will be served.