For his directorial debut, comedic actor Jordan Peele (he of Comedy Central's sketch series "Key and Peele" and co-writer of 2016's "Keanu
") has taken a sharp left turn toward a different, more personal genre: the horror film. And if many of the most noteworthy scary movies have the ability to play on multiple levelsto be genuinely unsettling, yes, but also socially searing, thematically provocative, and emotionally truethen "Get Out" takes advantage of them all. A blistering comment on race relations, prejudice, and cross-generational conditioning taken to harrowing extremes, this material also couldn't have come at a more timely juncture. One month into the new U.S. Presidency, the majority of the country is still coming to grips with, and fighting hard to combat against, the bigotry ignited by Trump's America. Peele could not have possibly been able to predict the outcome of said election during the filming of "Get Out," but there is a grim, dismaying, yet ultimately cathartic wisdom in its bones that seems to be foretelling the dangers of turning back the clock on social progress.
Going home to meet a significant other's family for the first time can be nerve-racking for anyone, but New York photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is especially trepidatious for one specific reason: he's black and girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) is white. She assures him her parents are colorblind ("My dad would've voted for Obama a third time if he could have"), but from the moment they pull up to the woodsy Armitage estate Chris senses something is off about Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) and their stilted live-in African American servants, groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel). As much as Missy assures Chris her family is as liberal as they come, cracks in this claim become more pronounced as he experiences casual racial profiling and insensitivity coming from Dean and Missy, Rose's younger brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), and their predominately Caucasian friends. When psychiatrist Missy ropes Chris into a late-night therapy/hypnosis session to help him quit smoking, it appears to work even as it unlocks a long-repressed trauma from his past and a very real fear of the Armitages' malevolent clandestine intentions.
"Get Out" is prudent, muscular filmmaking, a terrifically creepy thriller with a clear voice and plenty to say. Writer-director Jordan Peele proves an expert of tone; while there is tension-cutting humor sprinkled throughout that is only sometimes truly funny, it consistently comes from an honest place, much of it sprouting from characterslike Chris' TSA agent best friend Rodney (Lil Rel Howery)who effectively say what the audience is thinking. Much mileage is made from its fish-out-of-water plot being nefariously turned on its head, with Chris positioned as an outsider who even finds the rare few persons of color around him oddly aloof and disconnected. Rose, who has thought so highly of her parents until now, is left disappointed by the glimmers of intolerance she spots within them; they are no better than the police officer they met on their way into town who asked to see passenger Chris' identification for no other reason than the color of his skin, and it kind of breaks her heart.
In one of his first leading film roles, Daniel Kaluuya (2015's "Sicario
") is outstanding as Chris, mirroring the discomfiting reactions of the viewer while freely giving himself over to the raw emotional demands of the part. It is from his perspective that the story unravels, and watching him discover the full extent of the danger he's in and his attempts to thwart it prove riveting. Allison Williams (HBO's "Girls") is his equal match as Rose, her performance deepening and taking new shape as its unshakeable context comes into focus. Bradley Whitford (2016's "Other People
") and Catherine Keener (2013's "Captain Phillips
") are fabulously chilling as Dean and Missy, wavering between personable and suspicious but never to be trusted. With that said, their potential as more fully fleshed-out people is never tapped, and Keener's final scene lacks the forthright punch it deserves. Also of special note are comedian Lil Rel Howery, instantly likable as Chris' take-charge pal Rodney, and Betty Gabriel (2016's "The Purge: Election Year
"), an indelible, haunting presence as smilingly teary-eyed housekeeper Georgina.
The notion of racial assimilation is pushed to the horrific brink in "Get Out." Subversively thoughtful even as more familiar genre conventions take over in the homestretch, the film pays off in brutal, crowd-pleasing fashion while keeping a few surprises close to the vest until the final minutes. By going against the grain of what fans may have expected, Jordan Peele has reintroduced himself as an artist of many shades and tastes, someone who has a gift for comedy but whose greater calling may lie elsewhere. Adding to the off-center, "Stepford Wives"-esque mood is Toby Jones' (2016's "The Darkness
") elegant, observant lensing, and a number of pitch-perfect soundtrack cues, among them Noel Gay and Ralph Butler's chilling, childlike "Run Rabbit Run" and Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes' Oscar-winning song "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," decidedly not used in quite the same way it was in 1987's "Dirty Dancing." No mere thrill ride without a brain, "Get Out" is thinking-person's horror that smartly mixes social commentary with entertainment. It has the power to scare and induce dread, but it will also inspire much consideration and discussion once the end credits have rolled. In the early, uncertain months of 2017, it's precisely the edgy, conscientious movie we need right now.