Director: Jordan Peele
Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams
4 (out of 5) Globes
The craziest thing about Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is this: Sometimes it’s even better as a horror movie than a social critique. Last year, he and his sketch comedy partner Keegan-Michael Key gave us “Keanu,” an action-comedy where the action got in the way of the pair’s usual razor sharp diagnoses of race (and cute kitten action, and George Michael action). Cut to “Get Out,” which is essentially “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” repurposed as an intentionally terrifying chiller. It has a lot to say about the tensions simmering under the America Obama left us (and more semi-accidental commentary since You Know Who took over). But it would work fine even if you weren’t woke.
OK, maybe not: You’d have to be pretty thick to miss the subtext. It’s not even subtext; it’s the text. Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a rising photographer who’s about to meet the parents. He’s also black, a detail his (white) girlfriend of three months, Rose (Allison Williams), has not thought to provide to her bougie suburban parents. “Do they know I’m black?” he meekly asks before departure. “No. Should they?” she replies with a smirk, smugly passing the racial buck back to him. Still, when they get there, the parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) are a little too chill. They flaunt how laid-back they are. Dad voted for Obama! Twice! He’d do it a third time! Their lilywhite community features old men who profess, unprompted, their love for Tiger Woods. Another asks if it’s true what they say, nudge nudge.
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Through it all Chris smiles, nods his head, almost breaks a vein trying not to roll his eyes. (The English Kaluuya, best known stateside for the “Fifteen Million Merits” episode of “Black Mirror,” delivers a masterclass in subliminal acting; his face is placid but his mind is clearly running a million miles a minute.) The first half of “Get Out” nails a specific kind of human interaction, in which someone tries to ignore or forgive his hosts’ untold sins, all out of a fear of confrontation. To be more specific, it's about the black experience when it involves communities that may only pretend to welcome him with open arms. Chris even keeps his cool when Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones) talks up Chris’ “genetic makeup.”
There’s some far weirder things afoot, though, not the least her parents’ groundskeeper and maid: both smiling, awkward black folk, who appear to be shipped in directly from the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” era. We won’t reveal the truth (though the trailers almost do), but we will say what Peele is saying is both delightfully incendiary and fascinatingly complex. It sticks in the mind, forcing you to wrestle with it, to realize it’s infinitely more than mere Breitbart blogger trolling (which would have been fine, too).
Being a Peele joint, “Get Out” has the occasional LOL bit, usually involving the ad-libbing of Lil Rey Howley, as Chris’ TSA bestie, who tells him over the phone to get out of there before things turn “Eyes Wide Shut.” But most of the time Peele maintains a tricky tone, one of smaller laughs and cutting subtleties that don’t neuter the increasingly menacing tone. Peele has clearly studied horror cinema, but his directorial debut isn’t filled with references, as they so often are with first-timers or filmmakers from other mediums (or, in Peele’s case, both). Instead he’s nailed how you pace a slow-burn horror number, how you use camera placement to elicit chills, how you turn a real-world drama into something far more insane. What he’s done is more impressive, still: In “Get Out,” the message informs the thrills and vice versa, working in tandem to create something scary in more ways than one.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge