A strange mash-up of M Night Shyamalan’s better work and Meet the Parents, the socially perceptive, comedy-inflected horror film Get Out is an impressive directorial debut for Jordan Peel.
Here, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is the boyfriend nervously heading to a first encounter with his girlfriend’s parents. He’s particularly anxious because his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) hasn’t mentioned to her parents that he is African American. Chris’s fears are initially allayed as the parents, Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener), embrace him with their friendly and folksy manner. Soon though, the visit takes a creepy turn as the African American maid (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper (Marcus Henderson) on the parents’ expansive country estate act as if they are in a trance and a group of visiting white family friends pepper Chris with bizarre and often racially offensive questions. After a disturbing encounter with hypnotherapist Missy, Chris starts to question his grip on reality and the motives of his new potential in-laws.
Director Jordan Peel is better known as a comic actor appearing as one half of comedy duo Key and Peel and as a bumbling FBI agent in the first season of Fargo. Remarkably, he comes across as a seasoned director here creating a believable, naturalistic tone before cleverly adding layers of weirdness to the story. In this way he takes Chris from everyday banality to a disturbing psychedelic nightmare. He also manages to concoct some effective pop-out scares that had audience members leaping.
Most importantly, though, with Get Out, Peel explores issues of identity, racism and white appropriation of black culture. He cleverly juxtaposes the thoughtful rational Chris against the weird off-kilter world he finds at the Armitage’s to convey the feeling of a person struggling in an alien, superficially accepting but ultimately hostile environment.
The film benefits greatly from strong performances, particularly Daniel Kaluuya who brings intensity, conviction and emotional depth to what could have been a clichéd thriller character. He believably captures the growing fear of a level-headed intelligent guy confronted by inexplicably disturbing behaviour. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are also impressive as a seemingly benevolent couple concealing what appears to be a sinister agenda.
The film does, however, have some nagging flaws. These include ‘third act syndrome’ as, after a wonderfully strange and suspenseful build-up, the film in tries to explain the sinister reality behind all the weird behaviour and stumbles into action/ horror cliché. Admittedly, some of these scenes are confrontingly visceral, particularly a surgery sequence. Also, presumably because of his comic background, Peel inserts frequent comedy relief in the form of Chris’s outrageous wisecracking best buddy Rod (LilRel Howery). Howery’s performance is funny by itself but doesn’t fit into a horror film and detracts from the tension and sense of threat.
These quibbles fortunately don’t overwhelm the film and ultimately Get Out is a smart and disturbing thriller that establishes Jordan Peel as an exciting new director.
Nick’s rating: ****
Genre: Horror/ thriller.
Director(s): Jordan Peel.
Release date: 4th May 2017.
Running time: 104 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
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