Movie Review: ‘Get Out’ is a Fearlessly Scary Movie

February 27, 2017

get_out_universal_pictures
from Indy Week

The go-to synopsis for Get Out, the brilliant new horror film from writer-director Jordan Peele (Key & Peele), is that it’s Look Who’s Coming to Dinner crossed with a racially charged update of The Stepford Wives. That’s about right, but Peele’s game-changing film is more than that, and it’s the best thing to happen to the horror genre in 20 years.

The set-up: Brooklyn photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is about to meet the parents of his new girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), on a weekend getaway upstate. That’s stressful enough as it is, but Chris has deeper anxieties. He’s black, she’s white, and the Armitage family lives in the kind of tony suburban enclave where people of color feel conspicuous and vulnerable just walking down the street.

This last observation is confirmed in the film’s (seemingly) unrelated opening scene, where another young black man finds himself lost in those same suburbs. Bad Things Happen, and the sequence establishes the film’s nervy tone: This is a story that’s as aware of Treyvon Martin and Oscar Grant as it is of Halloween and Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Back in Brooklyn, Rose assures Chris that her parents are not racists, and indeed Chris is warmly welcomed by neurosurgeon dad (Bradley Whitford) and psychotherapist mom (Katherine Keener). The ‘rents seem harmless and square, making clumsy attempts to connect with Chris by conspicuously name dropping President Obama and Jesse Owens. “We’re huggers!” dad says, embracing Chris on the front porch of the house.

Yeah, about that house: It’s huge and beautiful, like a mansion – or even a plantation, one might say. Out front, the black groundskeeper Willy stares down Chris with thinly veiled hostility. Inside, black housekeeper Georgina serves lemonade with a smile as fragile as porcelain.

Chris proceeds to, gradually and subtly, freak the fuck out. As well he should. Something is deeply kinked here in the Armitage compound. Among the film’s many core strengths is the lead performance by British actor Kaluuya, who mines the ingenious subtleties in Peele’s script. Kaluuya has at least two scenes of such tonal dexterity and raw emotional wattage that I forgot to breathe for several long seconds.

Horror movies aren’t the place you usually look for extraordinary displays of acting, but then again, this isn’t your usual horror movie. As events progress over the course of the weekend, the movie boldly swerves though scenes of high drama, unexpected comedy, simmering menace and sudden violence. As screenwriter, Peele provides individual scenes that, taken beat-by-beat, are skillfully assembled to heighten both comic and horror elements with maximum efficiency. This is testament to Peele’s roots in comedy, and his recognition of its structural similarity to horror. It’s all about the timing. As a first-time director, he also displays an innate proficiency with trickier elements of long-form feature filmmaking – the careful disclosure of plot information, the maintenance of a consistent tone. The music is flat-out perfect.

As storyteller, Peele never goes for the easy out. The racial elements are threaded directly into the fabric of the horror story, peaking with one bloodcurdling image at the end of a neighborhood party. That image, concerning a silent auction, triggers a cascade of sinister revelations about the true nature of the Armitage clan. The movie makes a series of dizzying third-act pivots, ultimately burrowing into the Gothic roots of the horror movie genre itself. There’s one scene in particular, see if you can spot it, where Vincent Price could pop into frame and it would make total sense.

It’s exhilarating is what it is. With Get Out, Peele has delivered an effective popular entertainment in an established format, while at the same time probing some very real horrors concerning race and class in America today. The beauty of it all is that these two tracks don’t just run in parallel; they’re fully integrated into one fearlessly scary movie.

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