Get Out is as important as it is good, as America finds itself in a time nearly as divisive as the ‘60s.
Get Out, the new fright flick directed by comedian Jordan Peele (from TV’s “Key and Peele”), is a masterful blend of suspense, comedy and nuanced cultural observation. Not since 1968’s Night of the Living Dead has a horror movie so cleverly balanced horror with racial commentary. This makes Get Out as important as it is good, as America finds itself in a time nearly as divisive as the ‘60s.
In fact the movie owes even more to the ‘60s than initially meets the eye. Without getting into details, it’s no spoiler to say that it begins as a contemporary take of the 1967 classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya of “Skins”) is a sensitive young African American photographer. Rose (Allison Williams of “Girls”) is his lean, feisty hipster girlfriend. The first hint of dangers to come occurs when Chris is packing for their weekend with her parents. When Chris asks Rose if her parents know he is black, she tells him no, and asks why it matters. Peele’s clever script has many moments like this, and he respects the audience enough to allow them to pick out his foreshadowing and social commentary without winking at the screen.
When the couple arrives at Rose’s parents, Peele’s camera immediately notices the black groundskeeper and maid. Rose’s parents, Dean (Bradley Whit ford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) seem to be slightly out-of-touch liberals, and the presence and behavior of their servants slowly suggests that something else is going on beneath their innocuous veneer.
The set-up is tense and lightly funny, with comic relief provided by Chris’s recurring phone conversations with his friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery of “The Carmichael Show”), who expresses disbelief at the whiteness of Chris’s surroundings. Once the scene is set, and Dean and Missy reveal that their annual party is scheduled for that same weekend, Get Out turns nail biting. Peele’s brilliant script and crackling direction keeps the film taut while giving it time to build a sense of suffocating dread, all of which comes to a head during the family party.
Peele consistently plays with audience expectation, particularly with race. As white characters react with surprise that the muscular Chris is an artsy photographer who prefers smoking and television to sports, the audience realizes these were their own preconceptions. Those assumptions go the other way to delightful effect. Get Out isn’t afraid to hold a mirror up to the audience.
The film is an impressive directorial debut for Peele, who skillfully establishes tone and gets great performances out of his cast, particularly Kaluuya, who is called upon to do much of his acting with his eyes and body movements. Williams shows several sides to a very complicated woman, and makes Rose’s at times surprising behavior believable. Betty Gabriel (“Good Girls Revolt”) gives a knockout performance in a small but memorable role as the family housekeeper, her eyes and words telling two completely different stories as she speaks. The chronically underappreciated Keener digs into her role with relish, making more of out the swirling of a spoon than most actors do with entire monologues. Finally, Howery, in the film’s breakout performance, will have people rolling in the aisles.
Late in the film, Peele and company lay on the exposition a bit heavy, which is a shame for a film that otherwise replaces big twists with smaller but unrelenting swerves. But that doesn’t diminish the film’s timeliness or the satisfaction that comes with experiencing a horror film that trusts the intelligence of its audience.