Don’t stay in: Get Out and see this smart, fresh thriller
Jordan Peele, one half of the sketch comedy duo Key and Peele, makes his directorial debut with Get Out, a startling original take on the horror film genre that shouldn’t be missed. If you’ve seen the trailer, don’t be fooled; the trailer implies the movie may be a lowbrow, cheesy, run-of-the-mill-horror film, but it’s anything but. What Peele, who also penned the screenplay, has created here is a horror/comedy/social commentary mash up that’s one of the most entertaining, surprising, and utterly unique pictures to come along in years.
The less you know about the film going in to it the better; watching it unfold and seeing the unexpected directions it takes is its great pleasure. Suffice to say the film might best be described as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets The Stepford Wives. Young Rose Armitage (Allison Williams, Girls) brings Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, Sicario), her boyfriend of four months, home to her parents’ lush country estate to meet her family for the first time. Chris is worried that Rose hasn’t told her Caucasian family that he’s African-American, but Rose assures him that her parents – a neurosurgeon and a psychiatrist – have no issues, and all will be cool. Chris begins to suspect otherwise, though, when he meets a handful of other black people at the estate, including the Armitages’ housekeeper and handyman, and the much younger husband of an older white woman attending a party thrown at the house. Each seems slightly off to Chris, but he can’t quite put his finger on the cause of his unease.
From that set up, Peele delivers a clever and incisive look at nothing short of the state of race relations in America, as well as a send up of the horror movie genre that turns its tropes upside down. But he does both in such a subtle and fun way that you never feel as if the movie is a lecture. On the contrary, scenes in which Chris endures seemingly innocuous queries and comments from Rose’s parents and their friends elicit laughs, as we, along with Chris, roll our eyes and cringe (“I would have voted for Obama for a third term,” Rose’s father Dean tells Chris upon meeting him, while a party guest chats him up about sports, informing him, “I know Tiger.”). But, as Chris will come to find out, there’s much more going on with the Armitage clan than just this type of clueless, insidious racism that he’s probably encountered his whole life. Hints at a more sinister, deeper level of prejudice come in the form of Rose’s creepy and overtly hostile brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), a disturbing hypnosis session with Rose’s mother Missy, and the knowledge that several young Black men have gone missing in the area.
Peele borrows liberally from other classic horror films – he’s clearly a fan – but in his hands, such tension-ratcheting moments as a mysteriously unplugged cell phone, a flash of a figure in a window, and a late night encounter in the woods feel wholly fresh, and, in the context of the film, take on new meanings. Peele proves himself a natural master of suspense, using his terrific soundtrack to great effect, and using sparse, tight shots to convey disquietude both real and perceived. And under Peele’s direction, his cast delivers sharp performances that combine all the right elements of humor, fear, and agitation. Kaluuya has a star making turn here, as he plays everything from mild annoyance to genuine panic with visceral emotional truth. Viewers who only know Williams as the self-centered millennial Marnie on Girls will appreciate her role here, which takes her in entirely new directions. And comedian Lil Rel Howery steals every scene he’s in, playing Chris’s best friend, a TSA agent who starts to have suspicions about Rose, her family, and their intentions.
In interviews, Peele has referred to his film as a “social thriller,” and the description is apt. While the film not only succeeds as a superlative thriller, it’s also a prescient and intelligent look at the way racism remains an omnipresent and perilous presence in our 21st century lives, despite the protestations of many who like to believe otherwise. What Quentin Tarantino did for Civil War narratives in Django Unchained, Peele does here for the traditional horror film, reframing it as a bold, provocative statement about the way we live today. With this picture, Peele has proved himself an inventive, perceptive, and skillful filmmaker, and I’m already curious to see what he’ll do next.
Get Out opens today at Bay Area theaters.