By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams and Bradley Whitford
Written and directed by Jordan Peele
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
At the end of his audio commentary on Universal’s Blu-ray release of GET OUT (streeting May 23), writer/director Jordan Peele says he had the choice of leaving his movie’s meanings for the audience to discover, or “nerding out” and going into exhaustive detail on his talk track. Fortunately for fans of that form, he chose the latter, and yet all his explications don’t dilute the power of the film itself. That’s in part because, while GET OUT trades in heavy sociopolitical ideas, Peele employs them in the service of a solid genre entertainment.
A huge and deserving hit in theaters earlier this year, GET OUT is contained and focused enough that it plays just as well at home (though seeing it with a large, responsive audience definitely added to the fun). Updating the classic horror scenario of an innocent trapped in an unfamiliar house with a bunch of threatening folks, Peele also explores themes of racial discomfort that date back to GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER while making his story very much of the here and now, and accessible to viewers of any color who have ever found themselves in a social situation where they feel they don’t belong.
African-American Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is a little dubious from the start about meeting the family of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). Still, he agrees to join her on an outing to her parents’ home in a wealthy but remote area (the vibe is the Hamptons, though the movie was shot in Alabama). When the couple arrives, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) seem pleased to meet Chris—and indeed they are, though not for benevolent reasons. From early on, Peele drops a string of hints that all isn’t right and generates a consistent hum of anticipatory suspense, via both the patronizing attitudes of Dean, Missy and the guests at a backyard party they throw, and the odd behavior of the black housekeeper and handyman (Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson). Pointedly, much of the former can be ascribed to entrenched racist attitudes that these white liberals wouldn’t outwardly admit they have—until we learn how they truly view African-Americans, a revelation that’s key to the scenario’s switch to all-out horror.
Given that GET OUT is not only Peele’s directorial debut but his first venture into scare cinema after a career built on comedy, the control and composure he brings to the movie is striking. While there are certainly plenty of humorous moments, they arise out of character and situation; Peele never kids the material, and is deadly serious in making his points about race relations in post-Obama America. At the same time, GET OUT avoids simple polemic, and is devoted first and foremost to giving the audience a frightening—and, at the climax, cathartic—viewing experience. The fact that it has seen release in an even more divisive political environment than the one in which it was conceived only makes it more trenchant, and perhaps added to its popularity in theaters.
It also leads one to question whether the much more pessimistic original ending, included among the extras, was truly trimmed because Peele felt its political resonance had changed—as the filmmaker cites in the accompanying commentary—or for more commercial concerns. Among the other deleted/extended scenes on the disc are a nicely suggestive bit involving a badminton game and a number of amusing variations on the ending they did use—plus, we finally get to see that freaky deer shot from the trailer in context.
Also supporting the perfectly sharp, evocatively hued 2.40:1 transfer on the Blu-ray (packaged with a DVD and digital code) are a short making-of featurette and an even shorter post-screening panel discussion with Peele and cast. Both offer thumbnail examinations of the film’s production, and the Q&A is funny and lively for its five and a half minutes, to the point where one wishes the actors could have been given their own commentary. Peele’s, however, is more than satisfying and extremely informative, balancing those nerdy details about the production—which took only 23 days!—with revelatory discussion of the movie’s themes, along with clues and foreshadowing you might not have noticed on first viewing. Demonstrating a remarkable attention to meaningful detail (like the color-coding of a late scene with Rose), Peele also proves himself an enthusiastic horror fan, citing JAWS, THE SHINING and CHRISTINE as influences in just the first scene, and later namechecking everything from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and FRANKENSTEIN. For all his many inspirations, though, Peele has created a true and very topical original in GET OUT.
See our interview with Peele about GET OUT here.