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‘Get Out’ is a satirical horror for the post-Obama generation

(Universal Pictures/TNS)

The best thing about Jordan Peele’s new film is that it isn’t just a horror film that shocks, it’s a horror film that brings to life the reality of racial tension that many non-black Americans so often fail to acknowledge. In “Get Out,” photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) spends a long weekend with his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) and her parents. What ensues feels like a sudden shatter in a mirror.

The beginning of the film is laced with subtle cringe-worthy realities of our own supposedly post-racial America, where Chris deals with anxiety over the fact that his white girlfriend’s parents don’t know that she’s in an interracial relationship.  There’s also the awkwardness of microaggressions in which Rose’s dad (Bradley Whitford) mentions his unyielding love of Barack Obama, while Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones) stereotypes Chris as aggressive.

Peele takes on racism in the modern age and twists it into a terrifying metaphor. The film’s plot is not at all cliché — it’s a striking portrayal of colonialism in a form even more corrupt in the 21st century. As the family gathering grows more and more eerie, Chris increasingly feels a sense of dread of as he resides in almost-entirely white environment that never passes at an opportunity to other him.

In a seemingly color-blind romance, the wariness that exudes from Chris’ surroundings opens an emotional, uncanny valley for both him and the audience. Rose’s white relatives act bizarrely to Chris, while the black servants carry themselves like their smiles are close to shattering completely in an “American Horror Story”-esque manner. Everywhere we look, something’s off, and the disconcerting reaction Chris has with a black guest of the family, Andrew (Keith Stanfield), sets the suspense for the rest of the film.

The film shifts from a comedic commentary on racism to a bone-chilling horror spectacle quite rapidly. The microaggressions committed by Rose’s family masks a sinister conspiracy in which the suffocation African-Americans face in modern America is literalized into a brilliant satire that Peele slowly unpacks. The privileged class reveals their repulsive attitudes that have always bubbled beneath the surface, and, in a rare moment in film history, a person of color must be the one to defeat the evil. Historically, whiteness represents purity and goodness whereas blackness represents depravity and wickedness. “Get Out” eviscerates that false dichotomy.

“Get Out” sheds a new light on prejudice in America. The entire audience is forced to dwell in the “Sunken Place” – the nether region that black people must inhabit in order to survive. It’s a darkness that consumes viewers until they’re left speechless. The social reality of racism plays well in Peele’s thriller elements, which makes the film less of a classic horror film and more like a commentary set to a survival-horror plot. The dichotomy between white and black is even stronger in a plot like this one, and viewers, regardless of their color, will ultimately find something new within this provocative satire.

The film goes out with both a bang and a cathartic shiver. What Peele does best in this film is portray the underlying anxiety of being Black in America, in which the prejudice that is usually faced isn’t always in your face — instead, it becomes a thing crawling under the skin, a virus that turns into a cancer that turns into a pandemic.

Audiences’ reactions may be polarized based on their experiences and personal take on the subject matter, but without a doubt, “Get Out” shows an explicit depiction of a social matter that is overlooked too often in modern society. It challenges white privilege with a surgeon’s precision. It’s likely that many (white) viewers unused to being portrayed as the conflict-instigators may feel attacked or offended because of their portrayal. These reactions are necessary. To view the world through the eyes of another is a privilege that only film can come close to. If the privileged want to aid in fixing the ills of the world, they must be dragged out of their comfort zone.

Peele seized the screen with this film during a political climate more complex than any other, and exposed a truth in which African-Americans live something like a horror simply by living in a country built upon racial tension.

Ariya Sonethavy can be reached at asonethavy@umass.edu.

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