Get Out

By Bourke, Emily | Irish Gothic Journal, Autumn 2017 | Go to article overview

Get Out


Bourke, Emily, Irish Gothic Journal


Get Out, dir. by Jordan Peele (Universal Pictures, 2017)

In many respects, Get Out's central premise is nothing new: the image of the seemingly perfect family concealing an awful secret beneath its suburban façade has become so ubiquitous in the horror genre as to have passed into cliché. Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives (1972) is perhaps the best-known incarnation of this trope, following one woman's discovery that the Men's Association in her new hometown is replacing its members' wives with hyperfeminine, subservient, domesticated robots. What has earned Get Out such acclaim from audiences and critics alike, however, is not an upending of suburban-gothic conventions, but rather an expanding of them. Although the plot may be familiar, such a prominent tackling of racial issues is rare within a subgenre overwhelmingly concerned with the domestic ennui of wealthy white people.

Get Out follows Chris Washington (Daniel Kalluya) on a trip to meet his girlfriend Rose's (Allison Williams) family, the Armitages. The tensions at play start off small: 'Do they know I'm black?' he asks Rose. 'Should they?' she replies, assuring him that he doesn't need to worry, that her dad 'would have voted for Obama a third time if he could'. To talk of microaggressions - that is, small acts of unthinking discrimination against minority-group members, often invisible to the perpetrators - is to invite sneers from certain corners of society these days; the Left, we are told, is too sensitive, overly PC, and looking for antagonism in every small gesture. A major strength of Get Out is in Peele's ability to show his audience (at least, those members of his audience for whom these aren't already everyday experiences) exactly how it feels to navigate difference, to be viewed in every moment as a member of the outgroup, even as those around you hastily attempt to correct their prejudice. Although the Armitage family welcomes Chris with open arms, every interaction is in some way racially charged; Rose's father, Dean (Bradley Whitford), explains how proud he is that his own father ran alongside Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics, and her younger brother (Caleb Landry Jones) speculates excruciatingly that Chris's 'genetic makeup' would make him an excellent MMA fighter. Beneath their all-too-earnest exteriors lie constant reminders that they view their guest as 'Other'.

Underpinning Chris's discomfort at this hyper-enthusiastic welcome is a simple, stark fact: all of the Armitages' domestic staff are black. Walter the handyman (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina the housekeeper (Betty Gabriel) are the only other non-white people around Chris, but they seem just a little off to him. Their speech is formal, as though they are much older than their appearances suggest, and when they are not performing household duties, he catches them engaging in odd behaviour: Walter dashes around the ground at alarming speeds during the night, and Georgina stares at herself intently and at great length in the mirror. Rose's parents pay lip-service to the imbalance of power in the household: 'I know what you're thinking ... Come on, I get it. White family, black servants. It's a total cliché ... But boy, I hate how it looks.' Yet the inadequacy of the limp explanation hammers home an obvious truth: actions speak louder than words, and the Armitages are acting really weirdly.

Compounding Chris's discomfort is Rose's mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), who insists upon treating him to a therapy session, ostensibly to help him quit smoking. The session is nothing more than a pretext for hypnotherapy, however, during which Chris finds himself paralysed and trapped in what Missy calls 'the sunken place' - an outer-space-like void with a small window, like a TV screen, acting as the only connection to the real world. On waking the next morning, he chalks it all up to a nightmare, but discovers that Missy has used the session to hypnotise him into giving up cigarettes. …

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