It may initially seem surprising that Jordan Peele (as in ‘Key &…’) has made a horror movie, but actually watching it clears up the confusion. The film is a satire that mixes touchy race relation themes with the type of queasy laughs that good horror tends to serve up anyway. ‘Get Out’ has some problems, but they’re mostly incidental.
For the most part, it’s a brilliant directorial debut from a comedian who might one day primarily be known as a filmmaker for whom that comedy stuff is a footnote. Well, that’s probably an exaggeration, but it doesn’t change the fact that the movie is really, really damn good.
In a perfect world, ‘Get Out’ could be experienced without even the slightest hint of the plot. But we don’t live in a perfect world and the trailers have already given up far too many of the film’s delicious secrets, so let’s go ahead and get into the setup. Daniel Kaluuya (‘Sicario’ and ‘Black Mirror’, which ‘Get Out’ stole its poster art from) stars as Chris, a young man visiting his girlfriend’s family for the first time. Chris and Rose (Allison Williams) are an interracial couple, and the parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) quickly go about shoving their feet into their mouths in a quietly condescending way, trying just a little too hard to be cool with the situation. Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones) is even worse, commenting on how Chris could be a “beast” of an MMA fighter with the right training.
So far, a lot of casual racism is played for uneasy laughs. However, the fact that the family has two African American servants looks bad. Worse, the fact that they behave like racialized Stepford Wives sure doesn’t make the situation feel any more comfortable.
From there, the films grows deeper into thriller and horror territory, and Peele plays it deadly straight. The satire never goes away; it just stops being funny (except for whenever Chris’ buddy played by LilRel Howery pops up and Peele can’t help but slip in some more comedic relief). The movie can be quite creepy, both in its overt genre trappings and also in the uncomfortable truths that Peele teases out beneath the surface. It’s not a subtle satire, mind you. Like the clear influence of ‘The Stepford Wives’, the movie is direct in its social commentary and hammers home the point. However, it’s a minefield of contemporary racism, from the smallest of kidding condescension to cultural appropriation and outright hatred. The film hits hard, but does so within the horror trappings that allow it to also play as pure entertainment.
Peele is no slouch when it comes to his thriller/horror directorial chops. Working within the strict budget limitations of a Blumhouse production (which is still quite a leap up from the TV budgets he’s had in the past as a producer), the writer/director keeps things elegant, simple, cleanly composed and engineered for maximum impact. Shooting in 2.35:1 widescreen, he lets a certain John Carpenter influence come through with a few surrealist flourishes at just the right time.
Performances are strong all around, especially from the leads. Aside from the comic relief buddy (who’s great, by the way), no one is overtly going for laughs. The movie is played very straight and the laughs are situational. When the film veers hard into horror in the third act, the script stumbles into some necessary conveniences and contrivances to wrap things up quickly. Thankfully, the tight pacing builds corkscrew suspense and audience identification to a fever pitch, until a violent finale that should provoke cheers and squeals in equal measure (even though a few of the big moments feel truncated by the MPAA and an Unrated Blu-ray is practically inevitable).
Simply put, it’s hard to imagine we’ll see a better Hollywood horror offering than ‘Get Out’ this year. While it may be early to make such a claim, the movie is viscerally thrilling, unsettlingly funny, and packed with ideas. Although the last act feels a bit too tidily constructed and the messages of the movie are hammered home so hard that viewers in neighboring theaters will get them, these are practically genre requirements. The fact of the matter is that Jordan Peele has made one hell of a genre yarn and social satire that’s as provocative as it is entertaining. It hits all the right notes to be a box office hit and hopefully will be a big one. Peele deserves to be taken seriously as a filmmaker after this debut. It would be good news for the genre if clever and layered concepts like this could be selling points for horror hits again. Either way, ‘Get Out’ will likely have a cult of loyal supporters by Monday.