Movie Review: Get Out

A low budget horror comedy is one of the year's best films so far

Get Out
Directed by Jordan Peale
With Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Catherine Keener

Horror films usually just deliver some thrills and frights. They seldom function as deep social commentary. Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peale of the comedy team Key & Peele, has been a surprise hit, more for its social message than its scare value. But it has both.

The horror unfolds very slowly, in a low key fashion with few if any special effects. Race relations are at the core of the plot. A Caucasian woman named Rose Armitage (played by Allison Williams) is taking her African American boyfriend Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) to meet her wealthy parents who live in an isolated mansion.

Things at first are just a bit off. The parents claim to be very progressive politically yet they have two black servants. And the servants don't seem quite right. There is a slight robotic quality to the way they smile and answer questions. They pop up at odd times and always seem to be watching. One of the servants drains Chris's phone battery, and apologizes oddly about the accident.

The parents Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford) and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener) reveal that it is the weekend of some big annual gathering, something Rose conveniently forgot.

The mansion is soon filled with more strange Caucasian and Asian people, all of whom ask Chris very peculiar questions and even try to feel his muscles or do other very intrusive things. He seems to be on show for the entire crowd as some sort of exotic specimen of something.

There is one African American among the guests, Logan (LaKeith Stanfield), and he is also a bit of a zombie-robot.

This unsettling start keeps the audience guessing. Something is very wrong, and race is at the center of it. Progressive white people who claim to love African Americans are somehow involved in, well, it just what is not clear exactly but it isn't right.

The film is billed as a horror comedy, but thankfully the comedy takes a back seat. This material could easily have been spoiled if it was treated too flippantly. Much of the humor comes from the character of a TSA officer named Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery). He is in touch with Chris whenever Chris's phone works and sees that something is really wrong, but he jumps to all sorts of conspiracy theory conclusions. Rod takes his role as a TSA agent seriously and tries to get law enforcement involved, but nobody is interested in the case. He is on his own if Chris will ever be saved from whatever is going on.

The ensemble cast is up to the task, with Catherine Keener standing out as the mother. She was in Being John Malkovich (1999) and The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), but hasn't had a hit recently. She brings an ambiguous quality to many of her roles, serious but with a hint of humor. She can also portray harsh, psychopathic characters, as she did in An American Crime (2008).

Allison Williams also scores as the girlfriend in her first big film role, though she has extensive TV experience.

But the biggest surprise was Jordan Peale, making his directing debut. He handles his clever story with a sense of purpose, using his low budget well. The film has very few wasted scenes and drives to its conclusion methodically, revealing its secrets slowly as a sense of dread grows.

Get Out, even though it is a horror comedy, does shine a light on society as a whole and especially the idea of rich white people who claim to be socially progressive on race matters. At the same time, it is a successful thriller that keeps the audience guessing.

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