Jordan Peele, whom you may know as half of the duo Key & Peele, with their successful TV comedy show, has written and directed a horror film called Get Out. Or to say the title as I imagine it should be: “GET OUT!” Given Peele’s background in sketch comedy, one would expect this film to be a take-off, or a parody, or a spoof, similar perhaps to the Scary Movie franchise. Thankfully, no. This is a real horror film, albeit with a difference that makes it stand out from others.
Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a young African American who’s in love with Rose, a beautiful and charming white woman played by Allison Williams. Their relationship has reached the point where it’s time for him to meet her parents. “Do they know I’m black?” he asks her, hesitantly. She hasn’t told them, but assures Chris that they are very liberal, not at all racist. When the loving couple arrives at her family’s spacious country home, Chris gets a friendly welcome. Dad, played by Bradley Whitford, is a bit too chummy perhaps, and Mom, Catherine Keener, is a psychiatrist who offers her help to get Chris to stop smoking through hypnosis. Rose’s crudely mischievous brother is on hand, but more disturbing are the family’s two black servants, a yards keeper and the maid, who seem way too cheerful.
The plot is a cross between Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? and The Stepford Wives, but what Peele is doing here is more interesting than that. And to tell you the truth, I was a little surprised that a major Hollywood company green-lighted this movie, because it uses black people’s fear of whites as a premise for horror. This is a sublime satiric idea delivered mostly with a straight face, because—we must realize—this fear is justifiable. The brilliant opening sequence is a perfect example. A black man has lost his way on a tree-lined, upscale suburban street. A car pulls up and then slows down alongside him. You don’t need monsters or the supernatural to make this scenario seem frightening. Just think of Trayvon Martin. Peele uses the African American experience as an outsider treading in fear of an unpredictable racist threat, to create what in fact it really is underneath—a horror story.
The film is also quite funny at times. It has the humor of awkwardness and discomfort. For instance, when Rose’s Dad tells Chris that he would have voted for Obama for a third term, it’s funny because, even if he’s telling the truth, we know he’s saying it because Chris is black. We also have LilRel Howery, as Chris’s friend Rod, whose commentary and advice via cell phone supplies much needed comic relief. I say much needed because, at the risk of repeating myself, this is a bona fide horror movie, skillfully directed, with some very nice shock effects. The acting, especially by the two leads, Kaluuya and Williams, is excellent. And it seems that the studio’s gamble has paid off: Get Out appears to be a hit. But most of all, as a sly, entertaining commentary on race in America, Get Out is exactly what we needed.