Get Out (2016) / Comedy-Horror
MPAA Rated: R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references
Running Time: 103 min.
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Lil Rel Howery, Caleb Landry Jones, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Marcus Henderson, Stephen Root
Director: Jordan Peele
Screenplay: Jordan Peele
Review published February 28, 2017
Funnyman Jordan Peele's (of TV's "Key and Peele") feature-film directorial debut proves he has quite an eye for filmmaking, crafting a comedy with horror-movie leanings, along with elements of science fiction and thrillers to success, while also being a subversion of all of these genres. This is a film not built on scares so much as a tapping into of the unsettling, eerie feeling of being a black man traversing within a white world, especially when that black man is involved with a white woman romantically.
In a premise that initially recalls Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario, Kick-Ass 2) stars as photographer Chris Washington, a young African-American involved in a close relationship with the white Rose Armitage (Williams, "Girls"), so close that it's time for Chris to meet Rose's parents. Chris is nervous about their weekend retreat to Rose's family lake house because Rose hasn't told them that he's black because it doesn't matter to her, and her liberal parents should be all for it, she gathers. While seemingly fine, Chris undergoes a share of microagressions, assumptions, and patronizations because he is a black man, and things only get worse when he's involuntarily hypnotized by Rose's mother, Missy (Keener, Bad Grandpa), a hypnotherapist out to cure him of his smoking habit. From there, more of Rose's family gathers for an annual party at the estate, further compounding his issues in being slighted due to his race, while the black hired help around the house seem to adopt an aggressive stance toward him and his relationship with Rose.
Scares aren't abundant, but Get Out is a creepy, discomforting film nonetheless. First, there are the seemingly benign comments that the white characters make, presumably to show the black guy that they are hip and non-racist, with one character relating how he would have voted for Obama if he could have run for a third term, while another talks about his golf game, proudly extoling the virtues of Tiger Woods. Then there are the more insulting slights, such as a traffic cop that asks to see Chris's license, even though he's just the passenger in a car involved in an accident where they weren't even at fault. Rose's brother (Jones, War on Everyone), on the other hand, seems to want to match himself up in a fight with Chris, even though he has no aggression in him at all. Stereotypical "compliments" about Chris's 'genetic makeup' being a blessing, as well as certain pieces of his anatomy seem fodder for public statement. Then there are the more menacing stares, particularly from the other black characters, who either seem disapproving of Chris and his relationship, and perhaps even his preferential treatment among the white family.
Peele, while mostly known for delivering sketch comedy concepts that amuse for a few minutes at a time, which worked well in spurts with his previous screenwriting effort in Keanu, manages to flesh out a full film arc. It does become uneven every now and then, sometimes for prolonged periods, especially as it becomes more of a horror show for the final third, but the highs compensate quite well, enough to keep the film together in terms of intrigue on how it's all going to shake out. Scene-stealer Lil Rel Howery ("The Carmichael Show") gets the film's best laughs as Chris' best friend who is an officer in the TSA, Rod, who thinks all of what he hears about Chris's involvement with Rose is weird and scary, positing that black people traversing through white neighborhoods is just as fear-inducing as what white people often feel when traveling through a black neighborhood. The distinction is that the latter is often an irrational fear or people they don't understand, while the former is a reaction to those who have an irrational fear of people they don't understand.
Though horror aficionados may feel like the scares are too mild to give them the thrill they are seeking, for those who don't mind the Twilight Zone-esque trip to another dimension, there's plenty here to tantalize, especially with the underlying freaky events borne from the horrific indignities suffered by African-Americans milling about white society. From insulting conversations from the self-congratulating white liberals, who also can't seem to see black people beyond their race, to the fear of becoming "white washed" to remove any trace of black identity in an attempt to assimilate to Caucasian society, Peele isn't afraid to peek into some recesses of the subconscious and pull it out for all to peruse and comment upon afterward. It's a snappy satire that puts its mirror to all of us, asking even so-called enlightened whites to see through black eyes, with wit and precision, making for an applause-worthy debut for Peele as a filmmaker who is capable of more than just funny impressions and sketch ideas.
©2017 Vince Leo