- GET OUT: Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) stars in Jordan Peele's ("Key & Peele") horrific and challenging thriller about systematic racism.
It's hard to discuss "Get Out," Jordan Peele's wholly satisfying directorial debut, without trying to grope at its genre. The plot — or what of it you can explain without spoilers — is pretty straightforward: A city couple goes to the girlfriend's upper-crust family home for the weekend. She's white, he's black, and what begins as a mere Olympics of awkwardness reveals itself as something more sinister over a couple of days. Because the script and all are Peele's baby, it has the comic pace and sensibility of a longform "Key & Peele" sketch. Yet it also mashes in elements of horror, mystery, thriller, sci-fi and a plain ol' romantic drama. The result might not be high art, but it's almost certainly the unsettling instant cult classic that Peele was shooting for.
One reason why: It's among the smartest films on race that you're likely to see this or any year. Daniel Kaluuya plays the boyfriend, Chris, as the epitome of a dude just trying to be a dude. He's a photographer with a hip apartment and a girlfriend of five months, Rose (Allison Williams, of "Girls"), who he learns before the trip to the family home hasn't mentioned to her family that he's black. But there's no overt reason to think that should present a problem. After all, she assures him, her father voted twice for Obama and would've done so a third time.
The script makes a habit of needling the pretenses of supposed white progressives with a host of white insecurities. Upon arriving at his house, we find that the family patriarch (Bradley Whitford), an affable if tone-deaf neurosurgeon, is particularly off-putting; his habit of raising race from a mere subtext to the let's-just-get-it-out-in-the-open straight-talk is plenty creepy in itself. The mother, Catherine Keener, is more tactful, but the brother (Caleb Landry Jones) does more than his share with an off-handed quasi-compliment about Charlie's "genetic makeup" as he encourages him to take up combat sports. "You could be a beast," he says, before drunkenly trying to goad Charlie into a spot of dinner-table grappling. Even if they weren't up to something (and they are) these people would make your skin crawl. You know in another few years they're going to be the ones voting to instate the Purge.
A buddy at the TSA named Walter (Lil Rel Howery) is Charlie's best respite from the unbearable whiteness of being. He's the voice of black reason on the other end of the cell phone when Charlie starts piecing together some of the weirdness around the house: the stilted way the black groundskeeper and housekeeper talk to him, the fact that the mother hypnotized him out of smoking, essentially against his will. You'll see Howery get more work after this part; essentially unknown before "Get Out," he grounds the movie firmly in the realm of comedy, even as he drives the suspicion that keeps the plot pacing forward. Charlie, too often defusing his own emotions (especially during a painful yard party sequence that sees him appraised by a series of fawning older couples) to keep the peace. Walter, preferring that TSA-brand worst-case-scenario mindset, reminds him that This Is Not Normal. The next step, as we all know by now, is to resist.
What stands out after the film is just how tightly it was made. Budgeted at something like $4.5 million, and advertised only minimally, it's going to arrive as an under-the-radar hit. Word of mouth will be the driver here, as well as critical appreciation: Almost nothing achieves a 99 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and yet here we are, with a small-budget maybe-horror movie that deconstructs Trump-era race relations, written and directed by an under-40 dude best known as the shorter half of a Comedy Central sketch comedy duo. If you're black, you'll appreciate it as another high moment in a February 2017 that was, with the haul that "Moonlight" and "Fences" had at the Oscars, one hell of a month for black cinema. If you're white, you'll appreciate it for gently nailing your ass to the wall, and for leaving you slightly more woke than when you bumbled in expecting only a dark comedy.