Every year, Sundance has a mystery midnight screening, typically of a highly-anticipated film that will be released in the next couple of months. This year, I was so excited to finally have a ticket to this event, and with good timing too as the surprise was writer/director Jordan Peele’s horror/thriller GET OUT. The film is a triple threat- equal parts clever, funny, and thought-provoking… okay, four – it was scary, too. And the crowd was loving it! For being past midnight, the crowd was HYPED, at times screaming laughing and at times, well… just screaming. Side note: Malia Obama was in the audience and I soooo wanted to see her reaction to the Obama jokes in the film.
It’s hard to believe GET OUT is Jordan Peele’s directorial debut. From long takes, to the clever, twisty script, it’s clear Peele knows what he is doing and will be a voice to look out for in the coming years. Of course, he had success writing and starring in KEANU and his hit television series KEY AND PEELE, but this time, the vision of the project was completely his, as he masterfully builds suspense and paranoia through the eyes of our protagonist Chris, culminating in an explosive and memorable ending.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is nervous to be going to his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family home to meet her parents. After all, she hasn’t told them her boyfriend is black and Chris is concerned they may be shocked. Rose assures him that even though she has never dated a black man before, her parents are not racist and he has nothing to worry about. But as soon as the couple arrives at the family’s estate, it’s clear to Chris that something isn’t right, starting with the two black live-in laborers, who are as creepy as they come.
Although Chris is leery about the situation, he still tries to befriend Rose’s parents Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener). When Missy, a licensed psychologist, discovers Chris smokes, she asks to put him under hypnosis to help him quit. But when he refuses, Missy takes matters into her own hands, sending Chris into a creepy trance that pulls back painful memories from his childhood. The next morning, with little memory of what happened to him, Chris’ next hurdle is surviving the family’s annual party, attended by a bunch of the family’s white friends. Chris is subjected to many awkward conversations from people who probably have never talked to a non-white person before. But even their ignorance has a more unsettling element behind it; is Chris just being paranoid or is there something else lurking under the surface?
Some of the best horror films are comments on society, and it’s interesting to see the other horror influences Peele used for this film, STEPFORD WIVES in particular. STEPFORD WIVES was created as a commentary on gender, and Peele uses this same story of creepily perfect robotic people to explore the dynamics of race. But unlike other recent movies, who have explored racism through the lens of lower-class white supremacists, Peele brings the focus out of extremist groups into the world of middle and upper class America. Instead of allowing audiences to make excuses about a racist mentality only resting in neo-Nazi groups and the KKK, we are now asked to think about racial tensions in your own neighborhood. The villains in this film aren’t wearing white hoods and burning crosses, they are wearing polo shirts and sipping red wine. They proclaim they aren’t racist and quickly follow that with a story about how they voted for Obama, but have inherent biases that are bubbling under the surface.
The script also expertly balances humor and horror, which is important for a film like this that asks you to take a leap into the weird. Chris’ best friend and TSA agent provides a lot of the comic relief, acting almost as the Randy Meeks character from SCREAM, the 4th wall-breaking voice of the audience, analyzing the situation and reminding Chris about typical horror tropes.
GET OUT is, after all, a horror movie, so there are the typical jump scares and creepy characters. However, what’s really going to keep you up at night is the social commentary reverberating through the screenplay. If GET OUT is any indication, Peele has a long career ahead in whatever he chooses, be it directing, writing, or acting (or all three). I know I can’t wait to see what he has next.
GET OUT is in theaters February 24.
My Review: B+/A-