The directorial debut of comedian Jordan Peele, best known for the sketch-comedy series he developed with Keegan-Michael Key, Get Out is quite the change of pace, a cleverly conceived horror picture and a dementedly funny black comedy all rolled into one, using two unexpected genres to tackle some genuinely pointed sociological issues. The horrors of racism are an easy target for filmmakers - the horror is practically on the surface of the philosophy, never minding the application of it within society as told to us by history - but with this film, Peele contextualizes those horrors into something that is also wickedly, righteously entertaining. That's a welcome surprise, and another one is that the film never preaches its very apparent message. Rather, it treats the existence of the lesson as a known quantity.
Our gateway into the story is an interracial couple whom the film spends just the right amount of time developing for the maximal sweetness factor. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is the black half of the relationship, and Rose (Allison Williams), his girlfriend, is white. She is returning home for the weekend to visit her parents, and he's coming along. The dynamic of this relationship is established immediately as one of mutual respect and blunt honesty. The performances contribute to this in a major way: Chris is intelligent and perceptive, a child of trauma who already has issues with trust, and Kaluuya is strong in a largely reactive role. Williams's character is trickier as the narrative has its way with us, but the actress handles every twist with aplomb.
The arrival in the middle-of-nowhere town in which Rose's parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), goes poorly from the start: They hit a deer, which leads to an uncomfortable encounter with a police officer insistent upon looking at Chris' license despite the fact that he wasn't driving. The manor in which Dean and Missy live is a massive, picture-perfect one, if not for the black groundskeeper and maid living on the grounds of their home. There's something off about Walter (Marcus Henderson) and especially Georgina (Betty Gabriel in an unnerving role), too, with their blank stares and tearful smiling and practiced greetings. And what about Rose's younger brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), who wants to "get to know" Chris by way of playful karate and discussions involving his favorite sports teams?
The performances are strong, and the screenplay, which wraps all of this in a curious mystery with a disconcerting balance of tone, is clever in its attempts to mislead and to misdirect us. It's likely that even trying to look in the right direction for the final twist of the knife will steer us wrong, even as the film provides a subplot in which Chris' best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a TSA agent tasked with looking after Chris and Rose's dog, does his own investigation when things get weird (Howery is excellent here, in a role that could be the dumb comic relief if not for the fact that Rod is, indeed, a clever and fully qualified TSA agent). It becomes something of an anarchic comedy in these stretches, too, and the sinister joke at the middle of it all involves a fairly loaded punch line.
As with any mystery, the question of whether the solution is equal to the puzzle that leads to it is a good question, indeed. The decision not to reveal said solution limits how deeply one can explore this question without seeing the film, but let's say that the film's comic aspirations all but disappear by the time it reaches an explosive climax involving a house fire, a desperate escape, and a last-minute salvation. Get Out loses some of its potency as all the pieces are put into their rightful places, but that matters less here than the build-up to reach its central point. There are a lot of things that this film says, where it counts, about the state of certain segments of society, and even if Peele doesn't quite follow through with some of the trickier ambitions, the effort is enough - sometimes more than that.
Daniel Kaluuya (Chris), Allison Williams (Rose), Bradley Whitford (Dean), Catherine Keener (Missy), Lil Rel Howery (Rod), Caleb Landry Jones (Jeremy), Betty Gabriel (Georgina), Marcus Henderson (Walter), Lakeith Stanfield (Logan), Stephen Root (Jim).
Directed and written by Jordan Peele.
Rated R (violence, bloody images, language including sexual references).
Released on February 24, 2017.