Deftly implemented, unsettlingly relevant, and blisteringly funny, Get Out is an impressive horror debut that’s perfect for Sundance, an agile social commentary, and a terrific calling card for its young director. Spinning with twists and turns and uneasy tension (the first scene will trigger severe heart palpitations), it’s savvy, smart entertainment that’s mostly bold.
To avoid spoilers, a brief synopsis is as follows: Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) plans a weekend getaway with his girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), to meet the parents. His biggest concern is “do they know I’m black?” Kaluuya, best known as Bing from the second episode of Black Mirror and in a supporting role in Sicario, looks the part, but hasn’t been given this kind of opportunity to lead, and the majority of Williams’ experience comes from the role of Marnie on HBO’s Girls.
To their credit, both Kaluuya and Williams dive into their roles. Kaluuya is initially likeable and laid-back, and then quite believable when the tables are turned on him, while Williams is a freakishly charming, conniving puppetmaster dressed in sheep’s clothing (just wait until the credits roll and think back to her defence of Chris against the demands of an unreasonable police officer early in the film). And Lil Rel Howery, as Chris’ best friend who sees something the rest of them don’t, voices some hilarious lines with aplomb.
Bradley Whitford (who may have just changed costumes after walking off the set of The Cabin in the Woods) and Catherine Keener (the indie darling from Being John Malkovich, Capote, and multiple Nicole Holofcener outings) are similarly well-cast as Rose’s parents, and Jordan Peele makes decent use of tea-cup hypnosis as a way of jolting and rattling Chris (and the viewer) soon after he arrives. And that’s before Peele unleashes a garden party that’s more terrifying than most of the violent scenes that are dumped onto screens these days.
To the surprise of exactly no one, critics rate comedies more harshly than sci-fi and far more harshly than dramas and documentaries, but the fiercest criticism is leveled against horror, and perhaps for good reason: the genre consistently provides examples of utter trash. Even a well-executed horror film can be hard to stomach, or can be more focused on generating thrills than provoking ideas. Still, it is responsible for some of the most memorable images and stories in film: Regan’s spider walk, Danny’s tricycle, the prom, the cradle, the shower scene.
Peele (of Key & Peele fame) takes full advantage of the premise to wring gotcha scares and genuine conversation-starters around most corners. There are reveals straight out of The Conjuring, and a clever confrontation with a rigid housekeeper that’s wildly unnerving, and he rarely lets the pacing lag. Indeed, the first three quarters of Get Out is one of the most riotous and supremely uncomfortable experiences that I’ve had at the movies in some time, and I mean that as a compliment. For a filmmaker to elicit shrieks and screams and laughs and applause means the work is effective at the very least. Unfortunately, it also indicates it’s a bit too eager to please.
Get Out has been described by colleagues as “pitiless” (a word also applied to Julia Ducournau’s similar breakout horror debut last year), but Raw (or its creator) had the courage to follow through on its message. The racial undertones in Get Out are biting, to be sure, but Peele caps off a harrowing story with a finale that is not only derivative and implausible, but sends the audience away cheering rather than contemplating. Many a horror film is undone by its ending, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. Peele also loses his grip on the balanced tone in these last stages, tipping too heavily towards seriousness unleavened by humour.
So despite the buzz, Get Out is not the greatest horror-comedy in history (see: Evil Dead II, or perhaps the first installment of Edgar Wright’s wonderful Cornetto trilogy), its satire isn’t the most subtle (see: Dawn of the Dead), and it doesn’t quite clear the contemporary bar for horror (the highest set since the heyday of the 1970s). Regardless, Get Out is still a whale of a time. Get out to the theatre and see Peele’s handiwork as soon as possible. This guy’s got talent, and a bright future.