I very nearly gave Get Out a miss, since the reviews were all calling it a horror movie, and horror doesn’t fill any gaps in my life. As chance and release schedules played out, it was the only thing running that week which didn’t need me to carry an insulin shot, so I took the gamble that it was only horrifying for white liberal movie reviewers.
So it proved. It’s probably not going to be the best movie I see all year, but it’s the best I’ve seen so far, and it’s likely to be in the small set of movies I recommend to people from 2017.
This is largely because it is the first thing I’ve seen in ages which is written, rather than carefully stitched together around expensive set pieces. There’s an idea here, and the movie has to sneak up on it, and along the way it just builds up the sense of unease. It’s not just the growing acceptance that these creepy white people are up to no good; it’s the creeping realisation that we’re all a bit like that, but we just don’t have a well worked out plan to back up our little bits of unreasoning racism and white privilege. There’s enough of that in the first hour that most people are going to wince at least once in troubled recollection of something which seemed harmless at the time.
It probably helps that the director and writer started out in comedy. Successful comedy starts from seeing people as people, and then just dialling one bit up to the point where it starts being funny. Every now and then you hit a sweet spot where the what’s funny is still somehow likeable, and you wind up with a half hour comedy show that runs for a decade, but even when you don’t do that, you’re still trying to think about what makes people tick. And as I’ve said repeatedly in this blog, you don’t have to destroy the whole world; if you’ve made the characters work, it’s enough that their world is coming to an end.
So, in Get Out, it’s just one amiable guy in peril. Chris is a decent guy, just trying to get along. The world’s tilted against him, but he doesn’t want any trouble. He’s never looking for a fight; just for a quiet way to get around the awkwardness. When a racist cop wants to see his ID, Chris looks for the path of least resistance. Somehow, that says a lot more about quiet systemic racism than an angry scene would have, though just for the fun of it his white girlfriend has the angry scene on his behalf. Through the whole moment, Chris’s face is reminding us that this is not how it goes when he’s on his own.
It’s only a week later when I’m thinking about the set up, that I realise that it’s part of why it feels so satisfying when Chris finally starts pushing back and trying to save himself. At every step of his escape plan, he’s forceful and direct and clever. He’s terrified but he’s seeing the angles and playing them, clawing his way out of the trap an inch at a time. There’s something powerful in those moments, something which makes Get Out a weirdly feel good film.
As a bonus for actual comedy fans, the movie has its very own Arbogast in Chris’s best friend Rod, who works for the TSA, that one-stop punchline for everything wrong with US law enforcement. What’s delightful is that no-one takes Rod seriously, but Rod’s both almost right and the one man fire brigade who might just save Chris if he can put the whole thing together. Rod thinks the worst of white people, and adorably thinks that the TSA is a real band of heroes; he’s right about himself if not the rest of the TSA, and only wrong about white people in that he’s not thinking worst enough. Somehow, the writing makes all that both hilarious and charming.
It’s a genuinely tense, genuinely funny movie with something to say. No-one should see only one movie in a year, but if your bar is that low, this looks like the one you ought to see.