Politically troubled times often breed fantastic horror in American cinema. The McCarthyism and red terror of the 50s was fed into Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the civil rights movement of the 60s was reflected in the devastating ending of Night of the Living Dead, and the Regan era AIDS crisis led to the body horror of Cronenberg's version of The Fly. And so the arrival of Get Out, a film seeped in the paranoia and racial divisions of America today, is the right film for the current troubled climate.
"Do they know that I'm black?"
The directorial debut for Jordan Peele, one half of the comedy duo Key and Peele, the film at first appears to be a comedy based around the first visit to the in-laws for our hero, Chris. A terrifying prospect at the best of times, this in-laws visit is made all the more fraught by the fact that he is Caucasian Rose's first African American boyfriend. However upon his arrival, he finds that the initially welcoming atmosphere is tinged with a sense that something deeply troubling is afoot.
Get Out is effective both as a horror and a comedy, playing out like a cross between The Wicker Man (the original) and The Cabin in the Woods. Humour is used to disarm audiences, drawing our sympathies further towards Chris. Once proceedings take increasingly dark turns, the film prickles with tension and proves remarkably unnerving. Jump scares are fleeting and, as with the very best of horrors, Peele favours an escalation of tension and the uneasy atmosphere created is almost unbearable. To reveal the film's twists and turns would take away much of the fun of Get Out but it is certainly full of surprises.
As Chris, British actor Daniel Kaluuya (another Skins alumni) is fantastic, able to switch from comedy to terror often mid-scene. He is ably supported by fine performances across the cast, including the fabulous combination of Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as Rose's parents. There is also a fine cameo from Stephen Root, adding to the growing number of serious roles this actor has undertaken. The strength of the cast sets the film apart from other, lesser horrors.
It would be easy to point to last November as the point at which America succumbed to a darker narrative, one that has started to bleed into its cinema. However, as the collection of grimly effective horrors in recent years show, American cinema has been tapping into a sense of disunity and paranoia for a while. Get Out joins the likes of Green Room, Don't Breath and It Follows in effectively exploring the current toxic atmosphere. But Get Out seems to be even more effective at humanising the current climate. The film feels less interested in the racism that led to Trump's victory and more focused on the liberal racism, the kind hidden behind the assertion that they would have voted for Obama for a third term. As has been proven with recent events, the idea that America had moved to a post-race culture with the election of Obama is here shredded in front of our eyes.
Get Out is a powerful, at times provocative must watch that transcends its horror roots, with a star-making lead performance. Rarely a comfortable watch the film is nevertheless an exemplary addition to the roster of politically conscious horror films. Here's hoping for a wave of genre films like this in the near future, that place the American nightmare under the microscope.