(Arts and Leisure welcomes back Jonathan Schumann this week. The son of Reel Dad Mark Schumann, Jonathan started writing about film for Arts and Leisure in 1999 as part of the original “Take Two” duo with his dad. Jonathan now works in market research in New York City. And he still loves movies.)
by Jonathan Schumann
The new thriller Get Out begins with a haunting, perfectly executed cold open. A young black man walks down the street of a suburban neighborhood. He’s talking on his phone, everything seems fine. The streets are well-lit; the homes and hedges look inviting.
But this is a thriller where there’s always something sinister lurking behind the seemingly placid surface. Soon a menacing white sports car starts stalking him. I won’t spoil his fate, but you can read between the lines. It’s not only a chilling sequence, it’s also one with familiar ripples.
Writer/director Jordan Peele, better known as half of the erstwhile comedy duo Key and Peele, has constructed a social thriller that delivers twists and satisfying scares, but has bigger ideas on its mind. Peele embraces the spirit of the great paranoia thrillers of the 1970s – Get Out feels particularly in dialogue with The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby – to comment on race in America. The sinister conspiracy at the core of Get Out is scary, but what it acts as a metaphor for is far more frightening.
The setup is simple. Rose (Allison Williams, perfectly cast and confidently stretching beyond her Girls persona) brings home her boyfriend Chris (Sicario’s Daniel Kaluuya) to meet her parents. Rose is white and Chris is black, so the whole thing is very Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Rose assures Chris that her parents are open-minded liberals, and at the outset, everything seems normal. Missy (Being John Malkovich’s Catherine Keener, always a welcome presence) comes off as a warm earth mother and Dean (The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford, a pro at playing smarmy) seems harmless if effusive about his stance on equality (“I would have voted for Obama a third time if I could,” he boasts to Chris). But this is a film about surfaces and what lurks beneath them and, pretty soon, we realize something is off.
It’s that moment – when the audience secures its ultimate clue – that makes any psychological thriller feel complete. Because we may figure out what will happen before the characters on screen, we can only hope they get smart soon enough to avoid an inevitable conclusion. But that might not be as much fun at the movies. And we go to thrillers because they are fun.
To share any more of Get Out’s plot would rob you of the great pleasure of watching it unfold. Suffice to say, all is not what it seems, and the film’s title is apt.
(Get Out is Rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references. The film runs 1 hour, 44 minutes. Reel Dad Rating: 4 Popcorn Buckets)
Interested in other movie thrillers? Check out these classics – in the spirit of Get Out – that are available for online streaming:
The suburban hysteria found in the opening moments of Get Out recall the extended, one-shot sequence at the start David Robert Mitchell’s intelligent riff on the horror genre. Similar to Peele’s work here, Mitchell toys with and subverts the conventional horror narrative, all the while spinning a compelling, terrifying yarn.
The Stepford Wives
Similar to Get Out, this film – my favorite of the paranoia thriller sub-genre – casts suburbia as a villain. Katherine Ross is Joanna, a skeptical New Yorker who moves with her family to the picturesque bedroom community of Stepford. Right off the bat, Joanna notices that the housewives of Stepford seem just a little too perfect. Suspense and scares ensues.
Why We Love Movie Thrillers
by Mark Schumann, The Reel Dad
Since movies began to talk, they have loved the chance to thrill. There’s something irresistible to movie makers about creating just enough discomfort for an audience to begin to question the security of their whereabouts. And every so often a new thriller, like Get Out, comes along to join the gallery of classics.
Here are a few of my favorite thrillers.
Rear Window (1954)
This perfect film is the ideal introduction for anyone who wants to get know movie thrillers. Without a drop of blood, director Alfred Hitchcock frightens at every turn as a well-intentioned man starts to notice too many details about his neighbors. James Stewart and Grace Kelly perfectly capture the curiosity that can kill any cat. And can make a thriller such a favorite movie experience.
From its opening moments – when James Stewart tries to chase a bad guy across the rooftops of San Francisco – we know we’re in for more than a routine tale from Alfred Hitchcock. So when this aging detective first meets femme fatale Kim Novak we can see how such a selfish connection can only produce misery. Hitchcock toys with our expectations for movie romance as he surprises with every twist in a film that refuses to age.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
At the movies, we never know what may actually happen behind closed doors. On the surface, this looks like a simple story of two aging sisters who live together. Yes, they may be eccentric, perhaps they can be sinister. But what lurks behind the shadows in their lives fills the film with some of the most memorable sight gags in thriller history. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford have a great time chewing scenery in this thriller with an edge.
Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Two years later – after the success of Baby Jane – Davis and Crawford were set to team again in this sinister tale of secrets in the Deep South. But Crawford bowed out shortly before shooting began. Her replacement — veteran Olivia de Havilland – brings such a chilly precision to her performance that we’re treated to many more fireworks than the original pair would have generated. Agnes Moorhead scores as the all-too-wise household help.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
No one expected much before this film was released. Yes, the book was popular, but star Mia Farrow was best known as one of Frank Sinatra’s more interesting marital selections and director Roman Polanski was still considered unproven. But the film – based on Ira Levin’s best seller – could be the most frightening of thrillers because its premise feels so accessible. And it all begins simply, when a young couple move into their dream apartment in Manhattan.
The Conversation (1974)
Francis Ford Coppola – the same year he directed the Oscar-winning The Godfather Part II – snuck this thriller into movie theaters while no one was paying attention. The result is one of the great rides of the early 1970s with Gene Hackman in top form as a suspicious surveillance expert. Coppola perfectly creates the context for intense paranoia as Hackman makes his fears feel all too human.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
For some reason, this perfectly crafted adaptation Patricia Highsmith’s book was overlooked when first released. For director Anthony Minghella, many considered the film a comedown from his Oscar-winning The English Patient, while Matt Damon was criticized for giving his most unlikely villain so many layers. Today we realize how breathtaking a journey the movie creates until we ultimately discover what a bad guy Ripley really is.
Tell No One (2006)
The moment we first see the leading man – still trying to figure out his wife’s death some eight years later – we know there’s more to the story than what’s immediately available. Director Guillaume Canet carefully reveals his plot points, slowly and surely, to make sure we miss not a clue in our search for what really happened so many years ago. And the ultimate payoff is just as good as we imagine.