Best known as one of the masterminds behind Key & Peele—which, though I enjoy, I admittedly don’t adore like so many folks (it has the same hit-and-miss issue as every other sketch comedy series, even my all-time favorites, and though there are manic, brilliant highs, I never found the whole particularly enthralling)—Jordan Peele apparently has a whole other career ahead of him, should he choose: making awesome horror movies.
Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, which he also wrote, is the best kind of horror. It’s completely unnerving, plays with genre tricks and tropes but brings its own fresh spin, and uses the framework to shine a light on societal ills. Sharp and satirical, frustratingly topical and poignant, Get Out insightfully explores race in America. And the film accomplishes all of this while being an almost unbearably good time, never becoming heavy handed, and creeping the living shit out of the audience.
Get Out unspools like a racially charged Stepford Wives. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young black man from the city, travels to the country with his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), to visit her parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), on their rural estate. Everything is perfect, too perfect. Under this idyllic, porcelain smooth, meticulously detailed exteriors—down to the production design and affluent class signifiers like a lacrosse stick—there’s obviously something ominous afoot. It’s a simple plot, but Jordan Peele gracefully ratchets up the tension as the situation goes from awkward to creepy to downright sinister.
Delicately paced, with no flat spots or dead zones where it runs out of steam, Get Out gently needles the racial divide, pointing out hypocrisy and cluelessness. Rose may be well intentioned, but even when she tries to be supportive, she can’t escape her inherent advantage. And sure, Dean would’ve voted for Obama a third time if he could, but the reality is that the only African Americans in this isolated hamlet are the maid, Georgina (Betty Gabriel), and the handyman, Walter (Marcus Henderson), but there’s something off about them, too.
Get Out tackles race with humor and wit. White audiences are going to laugh, and with good reason, there are uproariously funny moments—many thanks to the scene-stealing antics and attitude of Lil Rel Howery, who plays Chris’ TSA employees best friend. But at the same time, after the fun fades away, lingering questions about our own complicity and privilege remain.
Maybe the most remarkable thing about Get Out is that it never preaches. Chris isn’t a crusader, he’s a realist, resigned to the way things are. He’s just a mellow guy who wants to take pictures, hang out with his shaggy doodle, and have a relaxing weekend with his girlfriend. Peele and company single out and skewer the subtle, everyday racism ingrained into even the most mundane moments. It doesn’t hammer points home, but you can’t really miss them either.
And all the while Get Out makes these greater plugs about race, it’s wrapped in the middle of an outstanding, effective horror movie. Clever and incisive, the plot maneuvers in unexpected ways, satirizing the genre at the same time it delivers scares and anxiety. The weirdness and discomfort escalate, and with unusual flourishes, Peele shows he has, as both a writer and director, a steady hand and strong grasp on the effortless pace, amplifying strain, and solid performances. He knows when things need to be subtle and spooky and when it’s the right moment for a big laugh that both relieves the mounting pressure and propels the story forward.
I’ve been a big fan of Daniel Kaluuya since I first saw him in the criminally underrated series The Fades, so it’s nice to see the British actor popping up and getting recognized more in movies like Get Out, Sicario, and the upcoming Black Panther. On the surface, Chris is laid back and go-with-the-flow, but there’s enough of an edge lurking below that shows through when the constant push becomes too much. Kaluuya and Allison Williams have a good onscreen chemistry that sells their relationship, and the sheltered, lily-white ingénue act covers more than anticipated.
The two leads are good, but the supporting players walk away with the show. Like I said, Lil Rel Howery straight up hijacks every moment he’s on screen. His character, Rod, avoids falling into stock boisterous, comic-relief best friend traps—he’s definitely that, but also has more to work with. One of the creepiest actors in Hollywood, Caleb Landry Jones plays Allison’s spoiled drunken shit of a brother who’s way more nefarious than your average spoiled drunken shit of a brother. Lakeith Stanfield continues his run as an off-kilter highlight of everything he appears in. And Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are perfectly cast as the too-eager blowhard dad—I can’t think of anyone more suited to this particular role—and the bored, eerie wife and mother.
In Get Out, Jordan Peele never feels like a first time director. The film is the work of someone with a clear, concise vision; an assured, even hand; and a deep love and knowledge of horror. Throughout, it’s fun and funny, scary and thought provoking, unusual and unpredictable, sprinkled with moments of gore and brutality. I’m going to watch whatever Peele does next, but Sweet Baby Jesus, is it too much to ask for him to keep playing around in horror for at least a little while? [Grade: A]