Jordan Peele’s Get Out is essentially Dear White People for sadists; it’s a therapeutic horror comedy with a shotgun barrel aimed at the racial tension that’s echoing through America. Where Keegan-Michael Key mostly seems comfortable remaining in the goofy comedy/light drama world, Peele is aiming to become a razor sharp satirist who’s unafraid to delve into social ills with sharper teeth than sketch humor allows. It’s such a left field transition that there certainly must be something to it, right?
The story follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams), an inter-racial couple who are about to star in the weirdest Meet The Parents sequel yet. Rose has assured Chris that her family is not going to get all squirmy at the prospect of her having a black boyfriend but Chris still has his doubts. Upon arriving, things seem fine at first. Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), the parents in question, are perfectly kind people even if they are a little quirky. However, something seems to be a little off about two people doing housework, who just so happen to be black. They seem almost too content with their place in the world, almost as if it’s the best they could ever hope to do. A suspicious Chris begins to unravel a horrifying truth as he meets more people in the neighborhood who are acting just as strangely.
Peele shows a surprisingly strong knack for atmosphere in his directorial debut. From the moment we arrive at this luminous mansion, something feels just off enough to put the audience into a sense of unease. The interactions Chris has with Dean and Missy are never even outwardly aggressive, they’re just scummy and we can feel their judgment and bigotry in the small subtleties of the performances-the offhand remarks that make thinking it puts them into a more progressive playing field. The gradual unraveling of evil feels akin to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, especially considering the balance of tension and dark humor.
Daniel Kaluuya anchors the film very nicely. While Chris is more defined by the relationships to the people around him than anything else, Kaluuya is brimming with tension. He certainly has every right to be nervous, as Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford are deeply unsettling without having to really assert themselves as such. They trust the material that Peele has written for them and don’t try to act their way around it. However, the stand out just might be LilRel Howery as Chris’ best friend Rod, who is uproariously aware of everything that Chris is about to go through. It’s Peele’s way of winking at the audience, acknowledging that he knows we’ve seen a million horror movies before and we’re in good hands as such.
The whole affair has a very fun-house sensibility to it, despite grappling with some really serious social issues. It playfully pokes at our sensitivities towards homespun racism through its satirical tone so that we get angry while still having a great time. Meanwhile, all of the scares are played more for elating jolts than terror. Peele intentionally riles the crowd up so that it can deliver a third act so cathartically violent that the applause will likely ring into the theaters next door.
However, this broad tone does serve as both a strength and a weakness. While Peele does a fantastic job at making his antagonists more subliminally bigoted through the first two acts, they eventually turn into cartoon characters. While Chris is certainly pushed over the edge as the film goes along, most of what he encounters is rather fantastical. The whole film certainly feels a bit absurd but eventually, it completely throws out the rules so that it can turn into an action circus. The ultimate master plan feels like something out of a 20th-century horror comic than something that could really terrify people today. We never get that truly authentic moment of unadulterated dehumanization that would really give the film a punch. As such, the ending doesn’t quite have the impact that it wishes it does, even if it is very entertaining.
With Get Out, Peele has certainly proven that his foray into horror filmmaking is not a gimmick. This isn’t somebody who’s looking to ride the coattails of his fame to sell subpar work. He’s a genuinely original voice who will doubtlessly make a truly fantastic movie one day. While it doesn’t quite have the emotional impact it could’ve, that likely won’t matter to most people. In an age where some people recoil at racial commentary in an effort not to be preached to, perhaps the way to get them to listen is to show them a good time.