Writer: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Betty Gabriel, Marcus Henderson, Lil Rey Howery, Caleb Landry Jones
Running time: 104mins
What’s the story: Professional photographer Chris is a young African-American antsy about meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the weekend. She dismisses his concerns, but is the weird atmosphere at their country home just a product of his nervous imagination?
What’s the verdict: Jordan Peele, one half of so-good-it-hurts comedy duo Key & Peele, makes a killer directorial debut with Get Out. A comedy horror that is so good… and hurts.
Peele sets the tone from the off. A young black man walking in an affluent neighbourhood after dark is freaked out by a pointedly white car trailing him (all to the sinister jauntiness of Flanagan and Allen’s Run Rabbit Run). It does not end well, but that’s not the end of it.
This opening defines Get Out, a film that delights in wrong-footing the audience. Sure, there are laughs here (typically of the nervous variety) but Get Out never forgets it’s a horror movie. And that horror is the best genre for taking swipes at the state of race relations in modern America.
Unsurprisingly, Peele cites George Romero’s inflammatory classic Night of the Living Dead as a key inspiration.
Chris (Kaluuya, in a star making role) is squirmy about visiting white girlfriend Rose’s parents for the weekend. Chiefly because Rose (Girls star Williams) has neglected to tell her folks Chris is not white.
Travelling to her parents’ country estate it becomes clear local law enforcement does not share Rose’s liberal values.
On the sprawling estate, mum and dad (Keener & Whitford) are super-welcoming and anxious to demonstrate their cultured, liberal credentials. But something is off. Particularly with black gardener Walter (Henderson) and maid Georgina (Gabriel), neither of whom miss an opportunity to tell Chris how happy they are.
Then there’s Rose’s openly hostile brother Jeremy (Jones) who seems to resent and envy his sister’s new fella.
Reworking Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for the millennial crowd, Peele and his cast deliver a meat-in-the-teeth satire on white liberal guilt, unconscious (and conscious) racism, and race & class divide.
Peele’s script draws in elements of The Stepford Wives and Martyrs, but subverts expectations, keeping you hooked in a riveting guessing game of what-the-hell-is-going-on. A large gathering of family and friends is perfectly played in its cringe-inducing dialogue and Chris’ total isolation in a world of white privilege.
And as a director, Peele can generate an atmosphere of disquiet and dread so creepy you feel its chill in your bones. With muted, autumnal colours, (courtesy of Aussie cinematographer Toby Oliver) Get Out has the visual unease of John Carpenter’s Halloween or Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Injecting belly laughs is Lil Rey Howery as Chris’ best mate and Transportation Security Administration officer, Rod. Using his TSA skills to investigate all this oddness, Rod never misses a chance to remind Chris serial killers and sex slave kidnappers tend to be Caucasian…
If there is any justice, Moonlight’s Oscar win for Best Picture (it won, right?) won’t just be a blip, and Get Out will be remembered come awards season. Peele’s script fizzes with daring and intelligence, rewriting the rulebook on who should fear who, deftly juggling (and blending) chills and chuckles.
Not a single actor puts a foot wrong, with Keener particularly memorable as a psychiatrist with an effective line in hypnosis.
But, Gabriel should receive Best Supporting Actress noms across the board for her portrayal of a woman seemingly at war with herself. An awkwardly courteous discussion with Chris over an unplugged phone charger is remarkable for the gamut of emotions Gabriel runs via a broad smile that doesn’t quite meet her eyes.
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