A jolt-a-minute horroshow laced with racial tension and stinging satirical wit. How is one movie all that? See Get Out, from debuting director Jordan Peele (one half of the comic team of Key and Peele), and get woke. This socially aware scary movie takes you by surprise, setting the scene for a slasher flick that’s a ticking timebomb. And then, ka-boom.
“Have you told your parents I’m black?” Those are practically the first words that aspiring photographer Chris Washington (Sicario‘s Daniel Kaluuya) speaks to his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), just before they drive off to white surburbia 2.0 for a weekend meet and greet with her parents, the epitome of white privilege. Rose’s dad, Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), is a neurosurgeon, a perfect compliment to her hypnotherapist mom, Missy (Catherine Keener), who can’t wait to get to the roots of Chris’ traumatic past as an orphan. The Armitage welcome seems genuinely warm. But fasten your seatbelts. Dean, a self-congratulating liberal (“I would have voted for Obama for a third term”), winks when he asks how long their “thang” has been going on. He also pointedly shows off a photo of his own father running alongside black gold-medalist Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics. He’s got well-meaning liberal bona fides, in other words.
Chris is quick to pick up a sketchy vibe, especially from the black staff who suggest slavery is still thriving in concept and execution in the upper-crust ‘burbs. The handyman, Walter (Marcus Henderson), gives Chris the once-over way more than once; the housekeeper, Georgina (Betty Gabriel), has a lobotomized smile right out of The Stepford Wives. Add Caleb Landry Jones as Rose’s nutjob older brother and a party scene where a black guest (Atlanta‘s Lakeith Stanfield) dresses like he’s posing for an aggressively white Town & Country photo spread, and we’re off to Creepytown. “Get out” is the advice phoned in by Chris’ TSA officer friend Rod (a hilarious LilRel Howery), who suspects some weird, brainwashing, sex-slave shit going on.
He isn’t that far off. Not to give anything away, but you should know that the mixed-race Peele is having the time of his life juggling horror and laughs to skewer of the hypocrisies of race in America. For a first-time director, working from his own script, Peele comes up aces, bringing all the elements of filmmaking together to raise tension and awareness. And his work with actors is exemplary, from the veterans (you expect the best from Keener and Whitford – and you get it) to the newcomers; Kaluuya is a star in the making, and Williams takes a riff on the character she played on Girls to places Lena Dunham never investigated. She’s dynamite.
If Peele goes more for the jugular than the subtext in the final scenes, it doesn’t distract from the provocative blend of scares and smarts he uses to stick it to the white liberal elite. “I wanted to make something I hadn’t seen before,” he’s been quoted as saying when asked why he wanted to make this particular movie. Mission accomplished.