The Stepford Whites: Get Out

get-out-peele

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Get Out
Directed by Jordan Peele
Opens February 24

The sorta-horror sorta-comic thriller Get Out conjures dread almost immediately, and with no actual ghosts, zombies, or demons whatsoever. It opens on a young black man, talking on his cell phone, relating that he’s gotten a little lost in this suburban neighborhood. He ends the call, consults some street signs, and a car pulls up near him. The speed with which this situation, free of all but the most basic context, creates anxiety is impressive, and depressing. No one else needs to appear on screen to surmise: This is a white neighborhood, and this guy is in trouble.

The orchestrator of this tension is actor, comedian, and writer-director Jordan Peele, and with just a nudge toward absurdity, this could be a particularly caustic Key & Peele sketch. So could the movie’s proper set-up, where photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) takes a weekend trip with his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her parents, who stumble over themselves to project open-mindedness. Rose calls it early: Her dad (Bradley Whitford) will mention how he would have voted for Obama a third time if he could have; sure enough, he says just that, and also calls Chris “my man” and makes a show of his comfort in touching and jostling this near-stranger. Rose’s mom (Catherine Keener) makes less awkward efforts, but bristles at Chris’s smoking habit.

But this isn’t a racially charged riff on Meet the Parents. Something more is amiss at this fancy house upstate, like the way a pair of black workers, a cook and a groundskeeper, behave with a kind of stiff placidity. Chris is unnerved, and places a few calls to his TSA buddy and dogsitter Rod (Lil Rel Howery) to register his discomfort. But he doesn’t bolt, out of loyalty to Rose. Allison Williams, in her biggest film role so far, was probably hired for the vast whiteness she summons on a regular basis for Girls. But despite a perfectly offhand moment where she asks her boyfriend if he’s packed his “cozy clothes” during a pre-travel check, she actually downplays her Marnie-ness here; Rose is privileged but not clueless. Even the characters who are pretty clueless keep you guessing about what, exactly, is going on. Williams, Whitford, and Keener are all so believable that part of the movie’s suspense has to do with fitting them into the growing paranoia that Chris feels. It’s rare that a movie (especially from a big studio) wrings so much suspense over the degree of obliviousness some white people are displaying in their racism.

As Chris, Kaluuya does a lot with his eyes, playing a character who’s clearly accustomed to keeping quiet when he needs to (there’s an early encounter with a dickish cop where Rose uses her white privilege to respond more aggressively than Chris can). Peele shuttles the more comic aspects to Howery (very funny) without derailing the movie’s essential tension. There are some mechanics that Peele doesn’t iron out; no twist explains why Caleb Landry Jones, playing the brother of Allison Williams in a painfully well-to-do family, speaks with a mookish Greater New York mumble, and sometimes the dialogue talks the audience through the proceedings a little too clearly. The final stretch of Get Out isn’t full-on terrifying on a sheer technical level, but Peele finds a trickier, more original tone—a kind of rueful, watchful sense of horror in the face of racism’s strange and deadly permutations. Peele has a great sense of humor, and applies it to his movie. But he’s not really joking around.

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