This isn’t the best made film on the list. Just to get the acknowledgement out of the way early – Get Out is Jordan Peele’s first solo film as writer and director, and it occasionally shows in places. The editing can be a little funny, and the cinematography isn’t always as exciting as it could be. But it’s far, far more than the sum of its parts – and not because it’s “timely”. Get Out could have been released any time in the last decade and it still probably would have landed with the same splash. It isn’t about the disillusioned, hateful alt-right, but instead about less extreme, more universal, more everyday racism, from people that have been described as “West Wing liberals”. It’s racism that isn’t as apparent, but can be just as damaging – a bit of code-switching here, a bit of stereotyping there.
In the film’s brilliant first act, the film recreates the all-too-real horror of being the odd one out; the constant probing, tone-deafness and ignorance that can come with being a person of colour in an all-white neighbourhood. Chris Washington, played expertly by Daniel Kaluuya, has been through this rodeo before. Rather than get angry and lash out, he suppresses his annoyance, grins, and bears it. He knows that his anger would only be reflected back at him, and Kaluuya does wonders to show us the frustration bubbling underneath the surface.
Jordan Peele’s screenplay is incredible – horrifying and thrilling, and sometimes funnier than films played for straight comedy – with cutting social commentary driving the whole thing. The film opens on a smart subversion of suburban horror – changing what would normally be a white female victim to a young black man (played by the wonderful Lakeith Stanfield – watch this dude get an Oscar in the next five years) – in which, rather than there being a slasher invading the neighbourhood, the neighbourhood itself becomes the threat. Stanfield’s character is quiet, and acutely aware that he’s not in the right place. The film builds from here on how horrifying this feeling of alienation can be, a personal terror that’s unique to people of colour in the US. Even in a clean, homely suburban neighbourhood, you could still be under threat, just because of your appearance.
The premise of the film is a situation that’s often been joked about before, and itself could sound like a sketch from Key & Peele – a white girl brings a black boyfriend to meet her family, it doesn’t go well. And from the first utterance of “boy” from Bradley Whitford’s overcompensating dad, it feels like it’s gonna go that way for a while. But over the three acts of the film, Peele’s script reveals layers to the family’s racism, beginning with microaggressions and performative allyship (“I would have voted for Obama a third time, if I could”) and ending with what’s probably the film’s most shocking scene, a full-blown slave auction before the end of the second act.
The film gets richer with every rewatch, as Rose’s motivations become clearer, and she becomes a commentary on performative allyship to match the rest of her family. The film cleverly uses her character to reflect on perceptions of white innocence – the very fact that people are surprised that she’s in on it speaks volumes itself. Alison Williams gives an incredible performance, playing her character’s true unhinged nature close to the chest – something always feeling slightly off even before it’s revealed how she eats cereal (seriously, it’s diabolical).
The result of the family’s scheme can be seen in the house’s caretakers, first the source of a joke about how conspicuous black servants look in a white household, and then giving us one of the film’s weirdest, most haunting performances – ‘Georgina’, as played by Betty Gabriel, a character whose inspirations seem to be two parts Chappelle Show and three parts The Twilight Zone (though this could apply to many of the “black actors playing white people” throughout the film).
But back to the slave thing. The film tackles the ownership of black bodies and erasure of African American identity via pulp horror – hypnosis and brain transplants. The film’s more inspired visual cues come from this concept, beginning with The Sunken Place. An area where Chris has no control over his body, he can only watch while this white family does with him what they will without consequence. There’s messages of liberation throughout, as Chris uses the deer earlier joked about by Dean Armitage as a weapon, the film is bookended by songs in Swahili.
For all my previous talk that the film might not be the best looking of the year, it still has some of the most memorable, striking moments of anything else I’ve seen once we get to the house. The running scene in which a man runs, full on sprints at poor Chris, the image of the red and blue lights shining on Chris bringing a sense of dread, helplessness and doom; the depiction of The Sunken Place itself. It’s unique, inspired stuff.
There’s something to be said for Get Out’s impact on cinema audiences too – I’ve never seen a casual cinema audience as lively and involved as the one with me the first time I saw this film – particularly memorable were the Caribbean women behind me who yelled “kill that rasclart!” when Chris finally gets his revenge on the creepy, alpha male brother Jeremy (played by Caleb Landry Jones). The sense of involvement, the affirmation of that weird alienating feeling that you can get when there are too many white people around, it was powerful to have that experience reflected by the cinema screen – and even just considering that, Get Out is the most important film of the year.
N.B. As our site is UK based, we work off the selection of films released in cinemas in the UK in 2017.
So to recap, here’s our Top 20 to 1!
20th – LADY MACBETH
19th – JACKIE
18th – LOGAN
17th – O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA
16th – PADDINGTON 2
15th – A GHOST STORY
14th – THE BIG SICK
13th – MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
12th – BLADE RUNNER 2049
11th – THOR: RAGNAROK
10th – THE DEATH OF STALIN
9th – CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
8th – TONI ERDMANN
7th – THE HANDMAIDEN
6th – LA LA LAND
5th – DUNKIRK
4th – THE FLORIDA PROJECT
3rd – STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
2nd – MOONLIGHT
1st – GET OUT