RCDoom9113’s review published on Letterboxd:
I’ve had the Blu-Ray of this film for a long time now and I’ve never gotten around to watching it. There are any number of reasons or excuses for that, but I think a lot of it has to do with my extreme aversion to the hype train. So many, too many, people told me I’d either love this movie or that I’d hate this movie, which is already infuriating; having people try to tell you what you will and will not like. Can’t stand that shit. But beyond that this movie was so critically acclaimed, so lauded with praises and awards, that I was beyond sure that the hype just would not match the experience. The movie has been out for a long time now, almost two years at this point, so it naturally became impossible to completely avoid any and all spoilers for that long of a stretch. Regardless of that, I knew the basics and I figured that with Jordan Peele’s newest, and seemingly equally beloved, horror film out in theaters now was as good a time as any to finally check this off the Watchlist.
The story here is, on its surface, pretty straightforward. Photographer, and African American, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) has been invited to visit his apparently jobless, and Caucasian, girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family for the weekend. Essentially as soon as he steps out of the car weird shit starts happening, awkward conversations are ceaseless, and the vibe is just way to off. And that’s just the first night. It’s pretty much all downhill from there, with more awkward conversations, more weird shit, an even off-er vibe. Plus some hypnotism, silent Bingo auctions, and body/mind swapping. Helluva weekend.
When this ended I was pretty torn on what I really felt about it. I can understand the hype, I can get and appreciate the love. But it’s also pretty confusing to me why there’s quite so much of it. It’s a solid movie, a good movie, but it fell far from greatness for me. For an entire myriad of reasons that, while crucial to the film, seem irrelevant in its analysis.
I understand the message of the movie, I get the narrative that it’s putting forth and it is an important message. But the film seemed equally languid and rushed all at the same time. It seemed like Peele wanted to cram as much allegory, as much metaphor, as many awkward two sided comments as humanly possible in a little under two hours. And he manages to fit a lot, a fuckton, but perhaps at the detriment of the greater story, the underlying message he’s trying to get across. For instance, the main character Chris is already completely uneasy and wildly uncomfortable around white people before anything even happens. He’s already on guard, he’s already expecting racism and being uncomfortable. Instead of him arriving and everything being normal, decent, or even enjoyable, it’s just instantly as awful as he expected. There’s no buildup there, no suspense, because Peele was determined to make everything as unsettling as humanly possible. And yet, we’re supposed to believe he wouldn’t leave? That his already apparently severe distrust of white people wouldn’t alert him much sooner, wouldn’t dictate a fairly drastic character change?
I realize this means there is no movie. If Chris reacted in such a way, if his response was the same as his friend Rod’s (Lil’ Rey Howrey) and he just left then there’s no story to tell. If he had just “got out” then the movie ends at the twenty minute mark. Got it. But that still doesn’t mean a little subtlety wouldn’t have helped the story. A build-up, an ascension of evilness and discomfort. Instead, he gets there and the movie seems to still itself so that we can essentially spend over an hour, with a few trippy side trips into The Sunken Place, watching Chris navigate weird ass people and weirder interactions and metaphors about society. There’s no progression of events, no slowly mounting dread or unease. It’s just right there in front of you, the viewer and the character, from the very first second they pull into the driveway. That hardly makes for compelling viewing, or suspenseful viewing, and definitely not “scary” viewing. It also does very little to build the character and sympathy we should feel for Chris considering his motivations for staying seem fairly flimsy. You’ve dated this girl for 4 or 5 months and she means more to you than your friends or life? And to not just run outta the house after finding her little shoebox of pictures? Come on now. Not sure that warrants sticking around considering the endless stream of strange going on at every single second.
Rod is supposed to be the comic relief of this movie, but more that that he is the embodiment of all the things I just pointed out. He is us, the movie watching audience, and he is constantly pointing out how stupid it is for Chris to be there. I enjoy the motif, the low-key fourth wall breaking, but it didn’t really work for me as well as it did for, apparently, most people. I found it to be almost distracting and at times a little forced. For one, the comedy aspects didn’t really hit that hard for me. It’s Jordan Peele, one of the masterminds behind possibly the greatest sketch comedy show of the last decade or more, so naturally there were some chuckles to be had. But a few was all there was, and they never went to full blown laughter. The atmosphere is so dense and palpably uncomfortable that to cut to this guy cracking jokes and getting the “language” quotient of that R rating served little purpose beyond breaking that pervasive atmosphere. This was already not much of a horror movie as it was a thriller, but the consistent and recurring appearance of a character meant to do nothing but try and get laughs was one of the aspects that took this out of the horror category for me. It just broke the tension, stalled the momentum, and set back the entire tone of the situation Chris found himself in, and I’m fairly certain breaking the tension of the horror movie he constructed was not Peele’s intention.
There is also the extreme counter intuitiveness of the underlying story. This is, obviously, a movie about racism in America and the plights of African Americans. That’s clear. But the twist ending, the devious plan of these rich suburbanites, seems to undercut that gut punch. It makes no sense to me, none at all, that the elderly white people would possess young black bodies and then willingly turn themselves into, what is essentially, slaves. There is no real arguing that. Georgina (Betty Gabriel) is nothing more than a maid. We see her do exactly nothing besides serve people drinks. I don’t care if she “answers to no one”, because she does. For the entire film. Walter (Marcus Henderson) is equally devoid of any duties but groundwork and nightly sprints. Yes, the hints are there; he almost beat Jesse Owens and couldn’t get over it, she loved the kitchen, they get hugged by everyone arriving at the party. But the characters themselves are strictly caricatures of slaves and field workers. Why wouldn’t it make significantly more sense for these two people to be a part of the family that they are, in fact, a part of? Why wouldn’t they be eating with them and partying with them and living with them? It doesn’t make sense. They took over these bodies for certain attributes and then become mere shells of human beings that don’t seem to actually exist beyond serving the remaining family. It paints a creepy picture for Chris, sure. But it doesn’t make any sense when the big mystery is revealed. It doesn’t seem to tie into the plan these people have with these operations. And it muddles the painted picture of the continued racism this country faces, because it doesn’t add up to anything sensical.
Jordan Peele is biracial and there’s an interesting allusion to that fact in the video Chris is forced to watch, the explanation of the Coagula. That video states, albeit in expected racist fashion, that the combination of white and black bodies and minds is the only way to create a perfect person. It’s an interesting stance that is never really mentioned or discussed in the film, or in any of the reviews I’ve read, but it does strike me as an interesting commentary. These people are convinced their brains are better but their bodies are not. They seem to think the advantages in life have more to do with physicality then mentality, but given an opportunity for both they would be unstoppable. I’m not sure if there’s anything more to that, or if it even has anything to do with Peele’s own biracial life, but it did stick in my head as more weird, twisted, racist ideologies. I’m not sure if it means anything, and like I said it’s never really discussed in any true detail or meaning, and clearly doesn’t matter given what I said about Georgina and Walter, but I thought it warranted referencing.
The message of racism is important, not only to the narrative of this film but the world in general. It’s everywhere, sometimes blatant and sometimes more disguised and muddled, but it’s there. It does affect everyone, in some way or another, all the time. There is no arguing the presence of it or the continuation of it in whatever degree. With that being said, I don’t really feel like the characters, not the people themselves but their lives, were the best way to capture this. Yes, the Armitage family is pretty much the perfect picture of extremely rich and racist white people. They have the money and the means to get away with such things as kidnapping and brain swapping. As does everyone at the party.auction I would assume. But that almost seems to easy a backdrop, to predictable a scenario, to outdated in the society we live in today. More pressingly, Chris himself is hardly a representation of your average African American. He’s clearly a successful photographer, much sought after by gallery owners, he can afford a very nice apartment in what I think is New York. This isn’t the normal life of a 26 year old person period. There’s an inherent disconnect there. Beyond the association of skin color I find it hard to really identify with, or have a single thing in common with, any of these people's lives and I can’t imagine I’m alone in that regard. It tells A story, but it hardly tells THE story, if that makes any sense. These are people, yes. Well realized and excellently brought to life, but they exist far outside of a realm of living that I have ever experienced or that most people I’ve ever known have experienced, not matter what race they are.
Beyond that, there’s the sense that this movie seems to think all of this should just be expected. Chris’ initial question about if his girlfriends parents know he’s black is met with same kind of dumbfounded reaction I’d expect. And yet, Chris is aghast at this and immediately seems to know this will make things awkward. Rod’s immediate reaction to seeing Chris drenched in blood and surrounded by multiple dead bodies is to crack an “I told you so” joke. So the underlying theory here is that it’s just the expected environment to be in if you’re a person of color and there are more white people around? It’s just how it is? Chris went into this weekend meeting already expecting it to be racist, unwelcoming, and awkward and it was from jump street. Rod instantly assumed it was some kind of cult, sex related primarily, but a cult nonetheless. And he’s not to far off, and when he realizes this he makes jokes. So what’s that message? Expect the worse because that’s exactly what it’ll be, at the very least? Interesting, if flawed take on the world, and a fairly fear mongering message to put out there for all the countless young people that’ve watched this movie.
Despite these things, these elements of the story at play here, I did find myself really liking the movie. Not necessarily the progression of it or the lackluster pace it carried to reach an explosive and all to quick finale, but because of the minute details infused with every scene. The unease it managed to completely embody. Sure, I think it should have built at a more gradual pace, but that does not negate the fact that I was uncomfortable for Chris for pretty much the entire movie. There was a sense of real danger that seeped into every single shot of the movie, every single encounter this guy had. It gets to you after a while, especially being as sustained and unrelentingly awkward as it was. It was incredibly effective and I absolutely was imploring Chris to leave long before Lakeith Stanfield screams at him to do so.
The subtle racism and the subliminal images and messages of the movie, the hints and clues as to what was coming, were, for extreme lack of a better word, fun to pick up on. The first time you see Chris he’s essentially applying white face, I mean that right there is a helluva image to introduce the lead. The conversations that at first seem so genuine, like Rose berating the cop, take on a much more sinister and creepy agenda as the movie continues. The repetitive use of the phrase “my man” means something altogether different in this film. The strange and stitled way Georgina and Walter talk is far more disturbing than them just being weird. The way certain posters in the background are blocked to spell certain ominous phrases. The interactions with the patrons of the “party”. The symbology of the silver spoon. The underlying connotations of the deer and bucks. Rose drinking milk from a black straw with pictures mounted like hunting trophies behind her. The color schemes of the characters clothing. Fuck, even the characters names. Everything is tinged in reference, shrouded in homage, cloaked in innuendo and it’s impossible not to get wrapped up in the struggle of finding them all. It is a meticulously crafted film, painstakingly pieced together, and I have no doubt that on any subsequent rewatches more and more things will present themselves to the viewer.
The acting is uniformly great in this film, but the real stand outs are David Kaluuya and Allison Williams. They are both riveting in their performances. Kaluuya’s struggles to maintain composure and his dawning realization that shit is just not right are a treat to watch unfold. He is so expressive and likeable that it is virtually impossible not to root for him. I could not wait for him to get his revenge against these people. His was outstanding and really carried a lot of this film on his back. As ridiculous as his character motivations were, he made Chris a real person and a person that everyone can easily like. Williams played essentially two roles in this movie and she killed it. Her transformation, though projected and quick, was genuinely creepy. These two people couldn’t be further apart from each other in body language and tone and personality but she completely melds to two and creates a truly creepy villain. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are solid as the parents of this fucked up family, but they didn’t really have a whole lot to do. They were unsettling and uncomfortable, especially Whitford as Dean, and they served two very exact purposes to the plot of the film, but they almost felt wasted given how long the film is. Caleb Landry Jones, as the brother Jeremy, might just be the most punchable human in this movie. From the first second you meet him you kinda wanna kick him in the chest. Or the head. So I guess he does what he was there for. Howrey served his purpose as Rod and he had some funny bits here and there and managed to stay likeable. The whole cast was great, but fuckin hell those two leads were completely stellar. I adored both performances and only wished I’d gotten more Chris interacting with evil Rose.
I’m also a big fan of the wild haymaker this film throws at liberals and left wing individuals, though unsure how to feel of the greater message there. The types of white people who do actually say things like “I’d vote for Obama a third time”, or “I have a black friend”, the outspoken caucasian BLM activists. This film seems to really be laughing at those particular kinds of white people, who ironically are probably the same white people that claim this is the single greatest achievement in cinematic history. It’s a solid hook to the ever flapping jaws of those kinds of people and it is unreserved in its stance that people like that, the most vocal of supporters, are just as big of a problem as the outspokenly idiotic racists that exist. I find that refreshing and bold and funny, but also very problematic and disheartening, if not altogether false. The film seems to be one hundred percent certain that all kinds of white people are bad, that even those that seek to help and support are just as self serving and evil as the worst kinds of racists, and that’s a weird, false and fucked up message. It helps the story, it serves the narrative, but given the climate of the world today it should be clear that’s a maliciously constructed fantasy. To imply such things set everyone back, as a universe. People are fucked up, and racism is still an issue that needs to be solved and eradicated from this earth. But to do such things would require a coming together, a unison, a working together. This movie posits that’s entirely not possible, and that’s a pretty shady message to put forth.
There’s a debate as to whether this is a horror movie or a thriller and I would certainly claim that this isn’t a horror film. Not in the sense that it isn’t scary or unsettling, but in the same way I declare Silence of the Lambs not to be a horror movie. It’s got horror elements and it’s thrilling, but it just doesn’t do enough to make it a horror movie and not a psychological thriller to me. I wanted so badly for Chris to destroy this family of whack jobs and after 95 minutes he managed to do all that in about 10. I would have loved more of that, more attacking, more offense. We spent so much time watching him get fucked with, but we didn’t really get the retribution we’d been waiting for. The fact the break out and wiping out of the family is handled so quickly, and fairly brutally, kind of leans this more towards thriller in my mind. I’m not sure why, but that’s just how I think. The point of the movie wasn’t the revenge or the escape, it was all the psychological and subliminal terror Chris had to deal with to get there. If there was more of a balance it might have been harder to pinpoint for me, but this wasn’t a “scary” movie so much as it was an unsettling one. It was amazingly unsettling, in fact, and wonderfully done, but I didn’t find it scary or thought it went anywhere further then dipping its toes in the horror wade pool.
Jordan Peele has gifted us with a really solid debut feature. I have been a fan of his work, mostly comedies thus far, for years now and I’m stoked that he’s getting some big time recognition for the work he puts out there. I liked this movie, I had a good time with it, and it definitely managed to unnerve me and creep me out on several occasions. There were some flaws in there for me personally, some elemental and narrative related choices this film took, but that didn’t take away from the expertly handled visuals and acting. This is a really good movie, and it has the potential to be incredibly powerful and influential, I’m just not sure of what kind of influence it’ll have. It wasn’t as scary as I was expecting, it wasn’t as funny as I figured it would be, and it wasn’t as flawlessly great as I had been led to believe. But it’s an excellent debut feature that doesn't miss an opportunity to creep under your skin and completely unsettle you. Recommended, definitely, but with a further recommendation about keeping that hype wagon, and subsequent expectations, in check.
Peele’s new horror/thriller, US, is out in theaters now and I won’t lie and say I’m not excited for it. Get Out, while equally effective and aggravating, didn’t necessarily fill me with an urge to rush right out and get my ticket to his next one. But I can certainly assure everyone it was good enough to make sure I don’t wait two years till I watch it.