During the four-year run of the “Key and Peele” show, a few things became undeniable. These guys were true cinephiles and their keen insight on current racial topics was matched only by their sharp wit. They brought the show to an arguably premature end in 2015 to pursue other opportunities, the first of this being their team up on the feline-comedy “Keanu.” Jordan Peele’s first solo project, “Get Out,” which he both wrote and directed, veers off into unexpected territory: A (mostly) psychological horror film.
Many were shocked when they learned who was behind this project and what it was. Is it possible that a comedian could pull off an effective thriller? Peele is not only effective but crafts one of the most rewarding films this genre has seen thanks to his absolutely brilliant script. Pulling a page from Tarantino’s playbook, Peele draws from all his favorite horror classics to create something new and his own. His homages run the full gamut from a shockingly direct visual cue to “Poltergeist” (used to great effect) to far more obscure references either mentioned off-hand by characters or seen lurking almost inconspicuously in plain sight.
While these homages are a nice touch and extremely well done, the film would be worthless without his ingenious script. The story introduces us to Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams); a couple with so much chemistry and charisma we immediately fall in love with them. These are the kind of people you wish were in your circle of friends, but since we know this isn’t a romantic comedy it’s not long before a dread begins to hang over the audience. We don’t want anything bad to happen to either one of them, but it’s obvious there wouldn’t be much of a film if it didn’t. Rose is taking Chris to meet her parents for the first time, a meeting any man would be nervous about, but additionally so as Rose’s parents are unaware of their interracial relationship. Upon arriving, Chris is relieved to learn that Rose’s parents ( Catherine Keener & Bradley Whitford) are refreshingly hospitable, despite being extremely white. Unfortunately, they also learn that their visit is the same weekend as the family’s annual reunion. Will the extended family be as open minded and “progressive”? And why does everyone kindness cause a ripple of discomfort to pass through Chris and into the audience? As can be expected, not everything is as it seems and peril does indeed lurk in the future of this refreshingly caring couple.
As mentioned numerous times above, the real gem here is the script. Not only does it create characters we believe in and care about, but it examines racism through many facets. Rose is a bit naive and over-optimistic at times, but she is also extremely protective and will jump at any chance to attack what she views as unjust treatment. Chris has experienced various forms of prejudice throughout his life and with each new interaction, we can see him balancing in his mind which ones are “no big deal” and worth brushing off, and which ones cause him concern. As the film progresses, we watch him struggle with things that feel like paranoia except his intuition is screaming at him. “It’s not WHAT he said, but HOW he said it,” he tries to explain in exasperation. It’s hard not to be paranoid in that situation, especially when his best friend, TSA Agent Rod Williams (LilRel Howery) is constantly ranting about the crazy things white folks do! On top of this is a full spectrum of people who range from full-on ignorant to trying-so-hard-to-be-not-racist-that-they-ARE-racist. To write all of these scenarios in a realistic and compelling way while still managing to be a highly entertaining thriller is a feat in itself. Peele has stated in interviews leading up to the film’s release that he was inspired by “The Stepford Wives” in how it examined the current turmoil over sexism and the Women’s Liberation Movement, and it’s clear to see how he used it as a framework to build his commentary on modern day racism.
Fear not, this is not a film with an “agenda.” It’s not going to try to sway people one way or another or try to change the world. Although… Looking around the diverse crowd near the end of the screening… It was pretty cool to see so many people unified by their cheers of excitement as certain characters in the film got what they deserved.