— By Renard Bansale–
Warning: Potential spoilers ahead…or rather, beneath
(Director: Jordan Peele, 2017)
As the United States and the world coasts from the aftermath of a most controversial presidential election, many wonder whether the problem of racism has improved between the time that Barack Obama took the reins as the 44th president and this past January when he made way for Donald Trump. This eye-opening horror-comedy—from the moody, more reserved half of the popular Key & Peele comedy duo in his directorial debut, of all people—seems to suggest that the problem has only gotten worse. Luckily, such turnouts soon become fertile ground for curious and rich trends in art, which is a blessing for the barren horror cinema of modern times.
A tense cold opening should squash any doubts of Mr. Peele’s directorial hand, which captures (in mostly one long take) a young man (Keith Stanfield) walking down the quiet, moonlit streets of a seemingly safe neighborhood, joking on the phone about how easy it is to get lost in copy-and-paste suburban streets. Out of nowhere, a car blasting polka music sneaks ever closer to the man, and from there, we know the scene’s destination. Nevertheless, the opening scene establishes the tone—even in the surrounding horrorshow, a contrasting amusement ensues.
“Do they know?,” Chris Washington (Sicario’s Daniel Kaluuya) asks his kindhearted, live-in girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams, of HBO’s Girls), signifying that her affluent parents may not be aware of their interracial, “he black, she white” romance. The film wastes no time bringing the couple to the wealthy home of Rose’s parents—her neurosurgeon dad, Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), and her psychotherapist mom, Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener). A dog-and-cat complementary attitude characterizes the two: A smiling Dean confidently but forcefully tries buddying it up with Chris with phrases like “My man” and remarking that he “would’ve voted Obama for a third term,” whereas the subdued Missy all but sneakily coaxes Chris to reveal his childhood traumas in one of her hypnosis sessions.
Right away, Chris senses something rather askew about the estate—the two servants Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) are both African-American, not to mention behaving like characters out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Furthermore, Dean reveals to Chris during the tour of the grounds that his father would have competed in the U.S. track and field team for the 1936 Summer Olympics if not for a certain runner named Jesse Owens. Just an innocent little family tidbit, right? The creepiness only amps up from there with the arrival of the family’s younger son Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), who’s obsessed with Chris’ physicality, and the Chris-fixated behavior of the guests at the neighborhood get-together the following day, where Chris recognizes the young man from the opening, the one we watched get kidnapped—something Chris’ TSA-employed best friend back in the city (Lil Rel Howery) is quick to point out to him over cell phone.
With this solo debut behind the camera, writer-director Jordan Peele never forgot that only the handling of setup and payoff differentiate between comedy and horror. Peele brought out worthwhile performances from all of his actors. Whitford and Keener handle their characters like seasoned pros, harnessing their warm demeanors to cover sinister intentions. Star Daniel Kaluuya proves his worth as a dependable lead, while it’s always a delight to see character actor Stephen Root at work, even in a small role. The standout performance of the bunch, however, is Lil Rel Howery as Rod, who gets his own subplot as Chris’ determined best friend whose only obstacle when warning the police of Chris’ potentially dangerous circumstances is his graceless street language. Howery’s turn provides the comic relief in an otherwise disturbing tale.
Only mature teens and older should watch this film. Characters, particularly Rod, don’t shy away from strong language when the circumstances welcome it. Though somewhat justified by one character’s intentions, the story portrays Chris and Rose’s cohabitating relationship as normal. Viewers should expect sudden, bloody violence towards the end, with the more grotesque moments involving medical tools. Moreover, the conservative crowd might find some of the more politically-charged elements questionable, such as when the party guests all show a bit of red while Chris is primarily dressed in blue or when a character eats colorful cereal while keeping the white milk in a separate glass.
Horror is all about fear of the unfamiliar and few in American history know that better than the African-American community. One may laugh and fawn over a foreign, seemingly innocent creature, up until the moment it bites off a finger or burrows into a brain. Get Out is a film that thrives in that gray area in between—that final moment of suspense between the smile and the scream.
4 out of 5 stars