By Jeff Boudreaux
What do you get when you combine the basic plotline of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with the unsettlingly insincere actions of the title characters in “The Stepford Wives,” and happen to throw in a hefty dose of “Hostel” for good measure? Well, you get Jordan Peele’s wonderful new horror/black comedy hybrid “Get Out,” and although it borrows key ideas from the films that I mentioned, this is one refreshingly original piece of work. You see, every year or so, a film comes along which shatters the mold of standard, boring horror fare. “Get Out” most definitely takes that prize for 2017, even though the year is quite young…
Our story follows promising photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), who’s very much in love with his girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), and their relationship has progressed to the pinnacle of anxiety. No, not marriage, I’m talking about Chris and Rose driving up to spend the weekend with HER parents! Of course, Chris is worried because the Armitage family doesn’t know that their daughter is dating a black man. So when he finally meets Dean (Bradley Whitford), a highly-respected neurosurgeon, and Missy (Catherine Keener), a work-from-home psychiatrist, his fears should be put to rest since these are two of the most progressive and color-blind white people that he could possible ask for. As we are told not once, but twice, Dean certainly would have voted for a third term for Obama if he could have! So our young lovers should be set for a pleasant weekend, right? Not so fast.
Besides the fact that the Armitage family springs an impromptu garden party upon their new guest, including the arrival of Rose’s eccentric brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), Missy is constantly trying to find out more about Chris’s past (particularly the loss of his mother at a very early age). Yet, Chris seems to find some solace at the presence of actual black people around the family residence. That is, until he happens to speak with them. It’s clear that something is strangely off-kilter about housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson), and even a party guest named Andrew (Keith Stanfield of “Straight Outta Compton”). The truth is, they all act like white people. So disturbing to Chris is this situation, he decides to take a picture of Andrew to presumably show to his friends back home. Not so good, as the flash sends Andrew into a violent, nose-bleeding rage and he delivers a cryptic and titular warning to Chris…Get Out. Well, not before he gets to the bottom of the sinister secret that surrounds his “hosts.”
What wonderfully works to this film’s advantage is the casting, starting with the two leads. Daniel Kaluuya, a fine, young English actor with mostly television credits on his resume, and Allison Williams (co-star of HBO’s “Girls” and the title character in NBC’s “Peter Pan Live”) have terrific chemistry together. This is really Kaluuya’s movie, however, and he made the very intelligent character of Chris Washington one that virtually every member of the audience could get behind. Breaking stereotype after stereotype, especially in terms of horror characterizations, Chris Washington is our hero, plain and simple. Peele was also very wise to surround him with veteran actors, such as a virtually unrecognizable Bradley Whitford, who was also terrific, by the way, in “The Cabin in the Woods,” another exemplary film which redefined horror in the year 2012. Catherine Keener, likewise, is always a joy to watch, and she brings an unnerving, yet downright homey quality to the Armitage family matriarch. Rounding out the cast is one of Hollywood’s most prolific character actors, Stephen Root, as a blind art dealer who admires Chris’s photographic art (!) and the hilarious comedian Lil Rel Howery as Rod the TSA agent, Chris’s best friend-turned-amateur detective.
Writer/Director Peele (of “Key and Peele” fame) delivers an auspicious debut film that is terrifying at its core. It’s also a delectably welcome motion picture thrill-ride that is highly suspenseful, wickedly funny and it honestly provided one of the best times I’ve had at the movies so far this year. “Get Out,” the title of which can also be construed as a theatrical call-to-arms (or wallets) for a movie-going public that is either constantly bombarded with ill-advised horror sequels ad hominem, or supposedly-scary movies that look as if they were put together by screenwriters who are getting paid by the jump-scare. Luckily, Jordan Peele didn’t waste time on that nonsense. He went back to horror’s roots and started from a frightening foundation, which should please genre fans who crave originality, rather than banality, which they’re very well used to by now.
*** (three out of four stars)