Get Out **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Jordan Peele.
Written by: Jordan Peele.
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya (Chris Washington), Allison Williams (Rose Armitage), Catherine Keener (Missy Armitage), Bradley Whitford (Dean Armitage), Caleb Landry Jones (Jeremy Armitage), Marcus Henderson (Walter), Betty Gabriel (Georgina), Lakeith Stanfield (Andrew Logan King), Stephen Root (Jim Hudson), LilRel Howery (Rod Williams), Richard Herd (Roman Armitage), Erika Alexander (Detective Latoya).
With his directorial debut, Joran Peele shows that if he wants to be, he could easily become one of the best horror filmmakers in America. Get Out is a film is creepy from beginning to end, building the tension from his brilliantly staged opening scene – where a young black man walks the streets of suburbia, stalked by a slow moving car – to the wonderfully staged action of the finale. Get Out is smart, funny, well-acted, extremely well written, and as a director, Peele shows a wonderful visual flair. The only thing the movie lacks is any real moments of pure terror – but that’s because Peele favors the slow burn – the terror in the everyday, which can be just as unsettling.
The movie is about Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is about to head into the country to visit his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the first time. He wants to know if she has told them he is black – and she says she hasn’t, but it doesn’t matter – her parents aren’t racist – they would have voted for Obama for a third term if they could have. Chris isn’t sure that’s the best idea – but trusts her anyway. Chris’ interactions with Rose’s family is fraught with unease – although it’s an unease he cannot really put into words. Her dad, Dean (Bradley Whitford) calls him “My man” a lot, and tells him stories of a relative who lost a race to Jesse Owens. Her mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), is nice, but there is an edge to the way she deals with “the help”. Her brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) seems oddly confrontational, but in a way that’s easy to dismiss, and talks about Chris’ “genetics”. That “help” is a maid, Georgina (Betty Gabriel), and caretaker Walter (Marcus Henderson) – and they’re both black, but also very quiet, with permanent uneasy smiles on their faces. But maybe Chris is imagining all these things – or maybe Georgina and Marcus don’t like him with a white girl (“It’s a thing” he tells Rose. At a large lawn party the next day, things get even more uncomfortable. Again, everyone there (and they’re all white, except for one other black guest, with the same sort of weird smile as Georgina and Walter). Everyone is so nice to Chris – talking about how handsome he is, what a fine physical specimen – the old golf pro wants Chris to know that Tiger is the best golfer he’s ever seen, etc. What Chris cannot figure out is if this is just a case of a bunch of rich white folks who don’t know any black people who don’t work for them trying too hard, whether they’re all racists, but bending over backwards to not show that racism, or something even more horrifying – since this is a horror movie, you can probably guess what the answer is.
Peele is clearly riffing on a few classics of the horror genre – film like Rosemary’s Baby or The Stepford Wives – tellingly, films in which white woman think something bad is going down, but are dismissed as crazy, or reassured that everything is fine. Peele very smartly flips out the white heroine of those movies, for a black man, already in a situation where he feels uncomfortable and isolated – which puts him on edge, yet he also knows something is not right. Peele smartly infuses this everyday reality – of being the only black person in a room full of white people – and infuses the inherent discomfort with something more unsettling. He has perfectly cast the big roles. Kaluuya (excellent in his episode of Black Mirror, and as Emily Blunt partner in Sicario) is an affable, likable everyman – the classic survivor girl horror character in a different body. Allison Williams is excellent as Rose – the insolated, self-involved millennial, who is convinced of there being no racist intent. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are both great as the parents as well – saying nothing really all that bad, but still giving off an edge of menace. LilRel Howery gives the film some comic relief – not too much to kill the tension, just enough to break it – as Chris’s TSA buddy, convinced that all white people want black sex slaves.
We’ve known for a long time that Jordan Peele is immensely talented – from MadTV to Key and Peele to last year’s underrated Keanu, Peele has shown himself to one of the most gifted comic minds of his generation – as both performer and writer. Here, stepping into the director’s chair for the first time, he does a great job with wholly different material. Yes, the film is clever and funny at times – but it’s also a legitimate horror movie – and a great one at that.