Film Review: Get Out

Comedian Jordan Peele makes an auspicious feature directing debut with this outlandish horror thriller/social satire that transforms topical racial tensions into bracing entertainment.
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It shouldn’t altogether be a surprise that Jordan Peele, half of the brilliant comedy duo Key & Peele, would make his feature directing debut outside the comedy realm. After all, his five-season sketch series on Comedy Central often presented spot-on, immaculately produced parodies of various movie genres. And so the genre Peele has chosen for his filmmaking bow is horror—but horror blended with a wicked dollop of social satire and bold confrontation of racial divisions that were a trademark of the “Key & Peele” show.

The pre-credit sequence is actually a realistic horror scenario any African-American can relate to: A young black man walking in an unfamiliar neighborhood and being ominously tailed by a strange car, with dire results. (The scene evokes the murder of Trayvon Martin and, for those with longer memories, the 1986 death of Michael Griffith in Howard Beach, Queens.) Peele’s screenplay then cuts to the seemingly unrelated lives of Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams of “Girls”), an interracial young couple preparing to leave New York City for a weekend trip upstate, where Chris will be meeting Rose’s parents for the first time. Rose hasn’t told her folks that Chris is black, but insists it’s no big deal, since her parents are open-minded liberals who would have voted in President Obama for a third term if it were possible.

Sure enough, Missy and Dean Armitage (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) don’t bat an eye when they meet Chris; if anything, they are solicitous to the point of embarrassment for Rose. But then, Chris notices that all their household help is black—not such a terrible thing, except there’s something off about the forced smile of housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and the vacant stare of groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson).

Things start to get creepy when Chris goes outside for a smoke in the middle of the night and sees Walter running toward and past him at top speed. When he re-enters the house, he encounters Missy, a hypnotherapist who suggests she can break Chris of his smoking habit. She succeeds in putting Chris under her power, with unanticipated traumatic side effects.

Chris and Rose’s visit just happens to coincide with the family’s annual party in honor of Rose’s late grandparents; all of the guests are very suburban white, except for one Asian and a young black man in fusty attire with an elderly white wife. Bizarrely, the flash from a cellphone camera breaks the black guest’s mild demeanor, causing him to hiss at Chris, “Get out!”

Suffice it to say there’s much more to the Armitage household than first meets the eye; the result is an increasingly demented paranoid thriller in which just about every white person seen onscreen is either evil or unhinged. (And there’s one big reveal—something hidden in a closet—that really jolts the audience’s perceptions.) Black audiences will thrill to the biracial Peele’s wild premise and its exciting, suspenseful follow-through; white audiences will feel rightfully uncomfortable but can’t deny the genius of the writer-director’s cheeky, race-tinged take on genre tropes.

British actor Kaluuya (Sicario) plays it all straight and brings an admirable intensity to Chris’ escalating plight; he’s especially impressive in the hypnotherapy scene which summons memories of a childhood tragedy that play a clever role in the movie’s climax. Williams is just right for the role of a feisty young woman in love who seems oblivious to the strange vibes surrounding her at the family estate. Keener and Whitford, two very intelligent and relatable actors, are perfect casting as those liberal parents with a hidden agenda. Gabriel, known for producer Jason Blum’s The Purge: Election Year, is riveting as housekeeper Georgina, instantly evoking her otherworldly aura with economical expressiveness. And standup comic Lil Rel Howery (“The Carmichael Show”) steals his every scene as Chris’ best friend, a TSA agent back in New York helping him scope out the strange doings behind the Armitages’ pleasant façade.

Jordan Peele has already proved himself a masterly comedian during his tenure at Comedy Central; with Get Out, he’s now an assured filmmaker with a most promising career ahead.

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